Articles

NFC Conference Championship: Packers/Buccaneers Preview

by Big Al Staff

Friday, Jan 22, 2021

The NFC Conference Championship Game features a rare clash between future Hall of Famers in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The two quarterbacks have only faced off against each other three other times as starters, although one of those encounters was earlier this year. Tampa Bay upset Green Bay at home in Week 6 on October 18th, 38-10, as a 2.5-point underdog. The Buccaneers earned the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl last Sunday with their 30-20 upset win at New Orleans as a 2.5-point underdog. The Tampa Bay defense held the Saints to 294 yards while forcing four turnovers. The Bucs only gained 316 yards on offense but did not turn the ball over. Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards with two touchdown passes. Brady completed 65.7% of his passes in his first season in the Buccaneers offense for 4633 yards with 40 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in the regular season. In his two playoff games, Brady completed 40 of 73 passes for a 54.8% completion percentage. He has thrown for 580 yards in those two games with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Green Bay reached the NFC Conference Championship Game on Saturday with their 32-18 win against the Los Angeles Rams as a 9.5-point favorite. The Packers held the Rams to only 244 yards while gaining 484 yards of offense themselves. Rodgers completed 23 of 36 passes of 296 yards with two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown. Rodgers completed 70.7% of his passes during the regular season for 4299 yards with 48 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Both of these quarterbacks were underwhelming in their October meeting. Rodgers experienced his lowest passer rating of the season with a 35.4 mark after completing only 16 of 35 passes for 160 yards. Two of his five interceptions this season were in that game. Brady completed 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Buccaneers added safety Antoine Winfield to their injury list on Thursday with an ankle, although he was a full participant in practice. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter and guard Ali Marpet were full participants in practice, with their respective calf and pectoral issues. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, running back Ronald Jones, and defensive backs Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jordan Whitehead were limited participants in practice on Thursday. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul did not participate in practice with a knee and a non-injury related issues. Wide receiver Antonio Brown did not practice either with his knee injury and will be a game-time decision. The Packers had ten players participate in only limited practice on Thursday, including wide receiver Allen Lazard and linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Tight end Marcedes Lewis did not participate in Thursday’s practice with a knee injury. Tampa Bay and Green Bay are on six and seven-game winning streaks. BookMaker lists the Packers as a 3-point favorite with the total set at 51.5. Kickoff is set on Sunday at 3:05 PM ET on Fox.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NHL, NBA, and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Friday, Jan 22, 2021

The Friday sports card features college basketball, the NBA, and the NHL. The college basketball card tips off at noon ET, with Wright State visiting IUPUI as an 11-point road favorite with the total set at 147.5 (all odd from BetOnline).The nationally-televised college basketball schedule begins at 7 PM ET. Michigan travels to Purdue on FS1. The Wolverines are ranked seventh in the nation by the Associated Press with a 12-1 record. They defeated Maryland, 87-63, on Tuesday as a 13.5-point favorite. The Boilermakers have won their last four to improve to 11-5 after their 67-65 upset win at Ohio State as a 6.5-point underdog on Tuesday. Michigan is a 3-point road favorite with an over/under of 138.Siena hosts Saint Peter’s on ESPNU at 7 PM ET. The Saints maintained an unbeaten 6-0 record last Saturday with their 74-72 win at Rider as a 5.5-point favorite. The Peacocks are 6-5 with two straight losses after their 63-60 upset loss at Canisius as a 3-point favorite back on January 2nd in their most recent game. Siena is a 4-point favorite with a total of 132.5.Ohio plays at home against Ball State on CBS Sports Network at 7 PM ET. The Bobcats are 7-6 with two losses in their last three games after their 89-79 upset loss to Kent State as a 2-point favorite on Saturday. Ball State fell to 6-6 after their 81-71 upset loss at Miami (OH) on Tuesday as a 3.5-point favorite. Ohio is a 5.5-point favorite with an over/under of 148.San Diego State visits Air Force at 9 PM ET on FS1. The Aztecs dropped to 9-4 after a 64-59 loss at Utah State as a 3.5-point underdog on Saturday. The Falcons are 4-8 with five losses in their last six games after their 77-58 loss to Wyoming as a 3.5-point favorite on Monday. San Diego State is a 15.5-point road favorite with the total at 126.5.Cleveland State hosts Milwaukee at 9 PM ET on ESPN2. The Vikings had their nine-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in an 85-49 loss at Wright State as an 8.5-point underdog. The Panthers fell to 5-4 with their second-straight loss on Saturday in an 81-74 loss to IUPUI-Fort Wayne as a 3-point favorite. Cleveland State, 9-4, is a 4.5-point favorite with an over/under of 133.5. Boise State plays Fresno State at home at 9 PM ET on the CBS Sports Network in a rematch of their encounter on Wednesday. The Broncos won that game by a 73-51 score as an 11.5-point favorite to raise their record to 12-1. The Bulldogs have lost three in a row to fall to 5-6. Boise State is a 14.5-point favorite with a 136 total. The NBA schedule has 11 games on tap. A double-header on ESPN tips off a 7:30 with Philadelphia playing at home against Boston. The 76ers won their third in four games with their 117-109 victory against the Celtics as a 4.5-point favorite on Wednesday. Philadelphia raised their record to 10-5. Boston had been on a five-game winning streak, but they now have lost their last two games to fall to 8-5. The nightcap on ESPN has Phoenix playing at home against Denver. The Suns ended their two-game losing streak with a 109-103 win at Houston as a 5.5-point favorite on Wednesday. The Nuggets have won four of their last six games with a 119-101 win against Oklahoma City as a 10.5-point favorite on Tuesday. Phoenix is a 1-point favorite with a total of 218.5.The NHL schedule has eight games. Three games start at 7 PM ET. The card concludes at 10 PM ET with Colorado playing at Anaheim as a -210 money line road favorite with an over/under of 5.5.

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NCAA Thursday Night Basketball: Arizona/Arizona State Preview

by Big Al Staff

Thursday, Jan 21, 2021

The Thursday night college basketball game on ESPN features two in-state rivals from the Pac-12 dealing with player attrition and game cancellations due to COVID.Arizona ended their two-game losing streak last Thursday in a 98-64 victory at Oregon State as an 8-point favorite. Freshman Bennedict Mathurn stepped up to score 31 points against the Beavers, taking over the shooting guard starting position for Jemarl Baker, Jr. The senior was scoring 12.0 points-per-game before suffering a season-ending wrist injury in the previous game against UCLA. Mathurin is one of the gems in head coach Sean Miller’s top-five freshman class. He was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week earlier in the month after scoring 18.5 points-per-game and averaging 8.5 rebounds-per-game against Washington and Washington State.Miller lost his top-seven scorers from the team that finished 21-11 last season. He returned three players with good pedigrees from last year’s rotation, including a Kentucky transfer in Baker. Miller added a loaded freshman class of seven players, including four-star recruits, and brought in three impact transfers in James Akinjo from Georgetown, Jordan Brown from Nevada, and Terrell Brown from Seattle. Akinjo leads the team by scoring 13.6 points-per-game with three other players averaging double-digits besides the injured Baker. Miller was using a nine-man rotation before the Baker injury. He has some interesting pieces to continue building as he continues to tinker with his starting lineup. The Wildcats have had seven of their games either postponed or canceled because of COVID. The program also issued a self-imposed postseason ban for this season earlier this month. Miller says his team will stay focused on winning a Pac-12 regular-season title. His team is 10-3 on the year with a 4-3 mark in conference play. Arizona’s highest-profile victory was against Colorado after a soft non-conference campaign. Miller’s team is the 11th tallest in the nation, led by 7’0 center Christian Koloko who recently entered the starting lineup. The Wildcats are 11th by rebounding 37.1% of their missed shots. Arizona also has the nation’s 17th best free throw rate. Kenpom rates Arizona as the 18th best offensive in adjusted offensive efficiency. The defensive performances remain a work in progress for Miller, with his team ranking 58th by kenpom’s numbers in adjusted defensive efficiency. Arizona State has lost four games in a row after their 80-79 upset loss at Oregon State on Saturday as a 6-point favorite. That was just the third game for the Sun Devils since December 16th, as four of their last seven scheduled games got postponed because of COVID issues. It took three weeks for head coach Bobby Hurley’s team to play again after getting upset by UTEP, 76-63, despite being a 13-point favorite on December 16th. Arizona State was without four players in their regular rotation, including captain Remy Martin when they returned to the court on January 7th against UCLA. Yet the undermanned group took the Bruins to overtime before losing, 81-75. Hurley was still missing those four players two days later in a 73-64 loss to USC, with his team staying competitive for most of that game. Martin did return to action against the Beavers but made only 3 of his 13 shots. Martin missed all eight of his shots from 3-point land, and he is 8 of 37 from behind the arc this season. This team is considered Hurley’s most talented in his sixth year with the program. Martin and Alonzo Verge bypassed the NBA to return to the team, and Hurley added a five-star potential one-and-done recruit in Josh Christopher. COVID complications and playing shorthanded explains much of the reasons why the Sun Devils are 4-6 at this point of the season. Yet the play on the court has been a disappointment. Arizona State is making only 28.3% of their shots from 3-point land in conference play, which is problematic in Hurley’s run-and-gun system that prioritizes 3-point shooting. The Sun Devils take 39.6% of their shots from behind the arc, 125th most in the nation, yet only 29.7% of their points come from these shots, which ranks 203rd. Hurley is still without two rotation players, with Jalen Graham out because of mononucleosis and Taeshon Curry in the COVID contact tracing protocol.BetAnySports lists Arizona as a 2.5-point road favorite with the total set at 154.

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Ness Notes: Thursday, Jan 21

by Larry Ness

Thursday, Jan 21, 2021

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 were FOUR games between ranked opponents last Saturday but there has been just ONE since, when No. 2 Baylor beat No. 9 Kansas 77-69 on Monday. That result made higher ranked teams 27-15 (.643) SU but just 21-21 (50.0%) ATS on the season. The next meeting between ranked opponents won't come until Saturday. Four ranked teams played Wednesday, including top-10 teams No. 8 Houston and No. 10 Wisconsin. The Cougars easily avenged their lone loss of the current season by routing Tulsa 86-59 to move to 12-1. As for the now 11-3 Badgers, they beat Northwestern 68-52, as the Wildcats have now gone 0-6 SU & ATS since entering the AP poll back on Dec 28 at No. 19. It was a bad night for the other two ranked teams, as No. 11 lost 74-70 at home to Providence and No. 20 Clemson was blown out for a second straight game, 83-65 at Georgia Tech (lost 85-50 at home to UVa last Saturday). Just two ranked teams are in action on Thursday, 12-2 Iowa (No.4) home to 8-6 Indiana and 11-2 UCLA (No. 24) at 7-8 Cal. Iowa is averaging 92.2 PPG (2nd in the nation), led by the nation's leading scorer, Luka Garza (26.9 PPG on 62.5% shooting, including 47.9% on threes). The Hawkeyes are favored by 10 points. UCLA opened the season as the AP's 22nd-ranked team but lost its season-opener 73-58 at San Diego St. However, the Bruins are 11-1 since that loss and have opened 7-0 in the Pac 12 for the first time since the 1993-94 season. UCLA has SIX players averaging at least 10 PPG and visits Berkeley having beaten Cal SEVEN straight. The Bruins are favored by nine points.NBA: It was a busy 10-game Wednesday schedule, with ESPN airing a doubleheader. Philly won 117-109 at home over Boston, behind Embiid's 42 points. The Sixers now own the East' best record at 10-5 (had opened the season 7-1). The Suns won the second game, 109-103 at the Rockets. Other notable results were the Nets losing 147-135 in double-OT at Cleveland, as Kyrie scored 37 points in his first game since Jan 5. How will the Harden, KD and Kyrie 'triplets' play out? The Clippers routed the Kings 115-96 to join the Lakers at 11-4 (best record in the league). The NBA's two-worst teams lost, Detroit 123-115 (OT) in Atlanta to fall to 3-11 and Minnesota 97-96 at home to the Magic to fall to 3-10. Troubling news comes with the NBA postponing Friday's Washington Wizards-Milwaukee Bucks game. Bradley Beal said the Wizards were "fighting the league" on playing the game with only eight players available and six others sidelined by the league's health and safety protocol. It's the 17th NBA game postponed this season because of the league's health and safety protocols and the SIXTH consecutive Wizards game to be called off.  I guess the good news is that it's 3-8 Washington, NOT the Lakers, Clippers or Bucks.Speaking of the Lakers and Bucks, the two square off tonight in Milwaukee in the first game of TNT's doubleheader at 7:35 ET. The defending champion Lakers have LBJ & A.D. and are tied for the NBA's best record (11-4) with the Clippers. They also own the league's best point differential (+10.1). The Bucks have had the NBA's best regular season record the last two seasons & Giannis has won back-to-back MVP awards. Milwaukee is 9-5 and has the NBA's 2nd-best point differential (+9.8). The second game tips at 10:05 ET, as the 5-8 Pelicans are in Salt Lake city to take on the 10-4 Utah Jazz, who own the longest current winning streak at SIX in a row. The Jazz opened 2-2 but are 8-2 over their last 10 games, averaging 111.9 points, 49 rebounds, 24.7 assists, 5.3 steals and 6.6 blocks per game while shooting 47.5% from the floor Their opponents have averaged 104.1 points on 43.2% shooting. Milwaukee is currently a one-point choice over LA and Utah is favored by seven points over New Orleans.NFL: How did the Bills and the Chiefs reach the AFC Championship Game? Buffalo QB Josh Allen did not have a big day against the Ravens (206 passing yards / one TD) and the Bills ran for just 32 yards but the Buffalo D held Baltimore's running game in check. Then, with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter and Buffalo up 10-3 and Baltimore threatening to tie the score, CB Taron Johnson literally "stole the show." He picked off Lamar Jackson and returned it 101 yards for a TD. His interception return matched George Teague's INT return in Green Bay's 28-24 win over Detroit in a wild-card playoff on Jan 8, 1994. Speaking of 1994, the Bills advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1994. Buffalo also extended a season in which it has broken numerous droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with last week's victory over Indianapolis, winning its first postseason game since the same year. WRs Diggs and Brown each had eight catches (Diggs caught Allen's lone TD pass). The Bills head to KC on an EIGHT-game winning streak and have won 11 of 12 (lone loss was the result of that 'Hail Mary' miracle at Arizona in Week 10). Patrick Mahomes hadn't played in 21 days (since the Chiefs clinched the AFC's top seed in Week 16) but thee Chiefs began their postseason defense of last year's Super Bowl title by scoring on each of their FOUR first-half possessions while generating 293 yards to build a 19-3 halftime margin. Mahomes completed 11 of his first 12 passes and was 19 of 25 for 233 yards by halftime. He also rushed for a 1-yard TD, making him the first player since the 49ers' Steve Young in 1995 with three straight playoff games with TDs on the ground and through the air. He has also thrown 15 TD passes without an INT in his five career playoff home games! Mahomes was KO'd from the game in the third quarter and the Chiefs had to hold on for a 22-17 win. KC becomes the first AFC team to host three consecutive conference title games. I'll give the latest update on his condition (he's currently in the NFL's concussion protocol) in my Friday preview.I'll preview both championship games in Friday's Notes plus weigh in on the retirement of Philip Rivers.Good luck...Larry

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UFC 257 Preview: Poirier vs. McGregor 2

by Ben Burns

Thursday, Jan 21, 2021

Love him or hate him, Conor McGregor sure can sell tickets. Every time the cocky Irishman fights, it's a big deal. Saturday sees him take on Dustin Poirier. The two previously fought, back in 2014. On the rise at the time, a young McGregor took care of business in short order. So, will the rematch be worth the price of admission? Poirier vs. McGregor 1The first fight happened so long ago, that McGregor wasn't even on the "Main Event." It didn't last long. Conor predicted a first round KO and stated that he'd "bounce Poirier's head off the canvas." Watch the replay. That's essentially what happened. McGregor made it look easy. He had barely broken a sweat by the time referee Herb Dean was pulling him off.Could The Rematch Be Any Different? The first fight was so long ago that the two are entirely different people. McGregor is now a global superstar. He's made millions and has his own line of Irish whiskey. Poirier has quietly done a lot, too. Not only has he had a daughter and founded his own charity, but he's also beaten the likes of Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis and Justin Gathje, to name a few. Poirer had this to say: "I don’t feel like I’m as emotional a fighter as I was then. My outlook now is trying to stay in a place of gratitude and be grateful for the position I’m in and be grateful for the fights that I have, the family I have. I’m just thankful."The OddsDepending on the book, McGregor is roughly a 3-to-1 favorite. Take back on Poirier is +250. The O/U line is set at 2.5 rounds. One has to lay some pretty steep juice to play the 'under' though. Currently, the price on the U2.5 ranges from -180 to -200, with the 'over' bringing back +150 to +160. The Rest Of The CardI don't plan on getting involved in the Main Event. I expect Conor to win but I'm not willing to lay the big price on him. There are some other interesting fights though. Amanda Ribas is an exciting fighter, who should win again. However, Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler should be a more competitive battle. (I've got my eyes on another one, too.)Enjoy all the fights, as well as this weekend's NFL Championships games. Until next time, good luck ... Ben Burns

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Big Al's Daily Angle: EPL, NBA, NHL and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Thursday, Jan 21, 2021

The Thursday sports card features college basketball, the NBA, the NHL, and the English Premier League. The college basketball card tips off at 2 PM ET, with Buffalo hosting Eastern Michigan as a 12-point favorite with the total set at 150.5 (all odd from BetOnline).USC travels to Stanford at 5 PM ET on FS1. The Trojans are a 4.5-point road favorite with the total set at 140. Memphis plays at home against Wichita State at 7 PM ET on ESPN2. The Tigers are 3-point favorites with an over/under of 139. Morehead State hosts Southeast Missouri State on ESPNU as a 7.5-point favorite with a total of 127.5.Iowa plays at home against Indiana at 9 PM ET on FS1. The Hawkeyes rank 4th in the nation by the Associated Press. They are 10.5-point favorites with an over/under of 151.5. UCLA visits California at 9 PM ET on ESPNU. The Bruins rank 24th by the AP, and they are 9-point road favorites with a total at 136.5. Arizona plays at Arizona State on ESPN at 9 PM ET as a 2.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 153.5. BYU plays at home against Portland on the CBS Sports Network at 9 PM ET. The Cougars are laying 22.5-points with the total set at 149.Utah State plays at home against Colorado State on FS1 at 11 PM ET. The Aggies are 8.5-point favorites with an over/under of 140.The NBA has three games headlined by a TNT doubleheader starting at 7:35 PM ET, with Milwaukee hosting the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bucks had their four-game winning streak end on Monday with their 125-123 upset loss at Brooklyn as a 2.5-point favorite. The Lakers had their five-game winning streak end on Monday with their 115-113 upset loss at home to Golden State as a 9-point favorite. Milwaukee is a 1-point favorite with the total at 229.The nightcap on TNT has Utah playing at home against New Orleans at 10:05 PM ET. The Jazz have won six in a row with their 118-102 win against the Pelicans as a 6.5-point favorite on Tuesday. The Pelicans have lost six of their last seven games. Utah is a 6.5-point favorite with an over/under of 218.Six games are on the NHL schedule. The NBC Sports Network has a doubleheader starting at 7 PM ET with Tampa Bay playing at Columbus as a -162 money line favorite with the total at 5.5. The Lightning have won their first two games of the season as they defend their Stanley Cup championship after a 5-2 win against Chicago last Friday. The Blue Jackets look to rebound from a 3-2 loss at Detroit.The second game on the NBC Sports Network has Vancouver playing at home against Montreal at 9:30 PM ET. The Canucks won the opening contest of this two-game series in Vancouver with a 6-5 victory.The English Premier League has Liverpool at home against Burnley on the NBC Sports Network at 3 PM ET. The Reds are a -1.75 goal line favorite at Anfield with an over/under of 3.

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Ness Notes: Wednesday, Jan 20

by Larry Ness

Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021

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: Tuesday's schedule had no scheduled games between ranked opponents but did have SEVEN games between ranked and unranked opponents, including three from the AP's top-10. No. 3 Villanova took the court for the first time since Dec 23 and eked out a 76-74 win over Seton Hall. The Wildcats returned from a 27-day break but the Pirates gave them all they wanted. Seton Hall snapped a 17-game road losing streak to Villanova with a 70-64 victory last February and again gave the Wildcats fits (game-winning FT came with 1.9 seconds remaining). No. 6 Tennessee lost 75-49 at Florida, despite the Gators missing three of their top players. The Vols fell to 10-2 by shooting 29.3 percent from the floor and 3 of 18 from three-point range. Tennessee ranked third in the NCAA in scoring defense (57.2 PPG) but the 75 points the Vols gave up were the most on the season. No. 7 Michigan bounced back from its first loss of the season (75-57 at Minnesota last Saturday) with an easy 87-63 win over Maryland. The four other ranked teams went 3-1 SU & ATS (all seven were 5-2 SU & 4-3 ATS), with the other loser being No. 15 Ohio St 67-65 at home to Purdue. No. 18 Alabama (now EIGHT straight wins), No. 19 Missouri and No. 22 Illinois all won and covered.Wednesday again has no top-25 matchups (higher ranked teams are 27-15, .643 SU but just 21-21, 50.0% ATS this season) and COVID concerns have postponed SEVEN games involving ranked teams vs unranked ones, including one top-10 team (No. 5 Texas). Two top-10 teams are in action, No. 8 Houston (11-1) is home to Tulsa (8-4), looking to avenge its lone loss of the season when the Cougars lost 65-64 at Tulsa back on Dec 29. Houston is favored by 12 points. No. 10 Wisconsin (10-3) is home to 6-6 Northwestern. The Wildcats opened 6-1 (3-0 in the Big Ten) when it beat Ohio St 71-70 back on Dec 26. Northwestern entered the AP poll at No. 19 on Dec 28 but the Wildcats have since gone 0-5 SU & ATS. The Badgers are favored by  11 1/2-points. Two more ranked teams are in play, No. 11 Creighton (10-3) at home vs 7-6 Providence and No. 20 Clemson (9-2), coming off an 'ugly' 85-50 home loss to UVa on Saturday, visiting Atlanta to play 6-3 Georgia Tech. Creighton is favored by nine points and Clemson by 1 1/2-points.NBA: Just two games last night, as the disappointing Nuggets beat the Thunder 119-10 to even their record at 7-7. The Jazz won 118-102 at home over the Pelicans to move to 10-4, extending their winning streak to SIX in a row (league-high). It's a busy 10-game Wednesday schedule, with ESPN airing a doubleheader. 8-4 Boston is at 9-5 Philadelphia at 7:05 ET and 7-5 Phoenix is at 4-8 Houston at 9:35 ET. The Celtics own the East's best record, while Philly is tied with Milwaukee for the second-best mark. Both teams are dealing with COVID protocols and injuries. The 76ers are favored by 4 1/2-points. The Suns jumped out to a 5-1 start but have lost FOUR of their last six, while the Houston roster is still in flux due to injury. Guard John Wall (knee) remains sidelined. Forward Danuel House Jr. (COVID protocols) and guard Dante Exum (calf), who was acquired along with Oladipo last week, are also out. Guard Sterling Brown (right leg) is questionable to play after missing the past two contests. Phoenix is favored by 5 1/2-points.The NBA's two-worst teams are also in action, as the 3-10 Pistons are at the 6-7 Hawks, while the 3-9 Timberwolves are home to the 6-8 Magic. As I noted in Tuesday's Notes, the T-wolves have a minus-10.1 PPG differential, the ONLY team losing by an average of double digits. Interestingly enough, Minnesota is 5-7 ATS (not bad), while Detroit actually owns a winning ATS record of 7-5-1. The Pistons are a five-point road dog and the T-wolves are a 3 1/2-point home dog. The 10-4 LA Clippers have won four straight and a win tonight at Staples Center over the 5-9 Kings would allow the Clipps to match the Lakers' NBA-best record of 11-4. LA is favored by 10 1/2-points. NFL: How did the Packers and Bucs reach the NFC Championship Game? The Packers scored on each of their first five series and led the Rams 25-10 early in the third quarter. When all was said and done, the Rams' top-rated defense (had allowed 18.5 PPG on just 281.9 YPG) was shredded for 32 points on 484 yards, allowing 28 FDs (GB was 8 of 12 on 3rd downs). Rodgers threw for 296 yards with two TDs and no INTs (108.1 QB rating) plus had a one-yard TD run. His TD run was the first by a Packers QB in a playoff game at Lambeau Field since Bart Starr's winning sneak in the Ice Bowl against Dallas on Dec 31, 1967. The Green Bay defense held the Rams to just 244 yards, allowing LA to convert just 2 of 8 third downs (0-1 on 4th down). Green Bay has now won SEVEN in a row, holding its opponents to 18.4 PPG during that stretch.Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense turned three of four Saints turnovers into TDs and Tampa Bay beat the Saints 30-20 in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday night at New Orleans. The Saints had beaten the Bucs in BOTH regular season meetings, 34-24 at home in Week 1 and then 38-3 at Tampa in Week 9. Two of those TDs came on short passes to WR Mike Evans and RB Leonard Fournette. Then, after an interception by LB Devin White, Brady drove the Bucs to the one-yard-line, from where he scored himself with 4:57 left to virtually ensure his 14th trip to a conference championship game but his first in the NFC. Brady finished 18 of 33 for 199 yards with two TD passes and that TD run. The 30-20 Tampa Bay win resembled more of a defensive struggle, as the Bucs had a modest 316 total yards and the Saints had just 294. However, unlike in his previous two meetings with the Saints (five INTs and six sacks), Brady was not intercepted and largely avoided pressure, taking only one sack.The Packers reached the NFC championship game for the fourth time in seven seasons as they chase their first Super Bowl berth in a decade (2010 season). It will be their first NFC title contest at Lambeau Field since hosting for the 2007 season, when they fell to the New York Giants 23-20 in overtime. Rodgers was on Green Bay's roster during that 2007 season backing up Brett Favre. Brady will try to advance to his 10th Super Bowl (the Bucs are hoping for just their SECOND Super Bowl appearance) in a showdown with Rodgers. I'll recap how the Bills and Chiefs reached the AFC championship game in Thursday's Notes and then preview both games in Friday's Notes.Good luck...Larry

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NCAA Wednesday Night Basketball: Creighton/Providence Preview

by Big Al Staff

Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021

The opening contest in a college basketball doubleheader on FS1 features a rematch of a game on January 2nd in Big East decided on a game-winning shot with just 0.8 seconds left to play. Christian Bishop’s clutch shot gave Creighton a 67-65 victory at Providence as a 4-point favorite. Ed Cooley’s team has found themselves in several close games this season. The Friars followed up that loss by getting beat at Xavier, 74-73, via a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left on the clock a week later. Those heartbreaks may have contributed to their flat effort on January 12th at Marquette, where they fell behind by 16 points before losing to the Golden Eagles by a 79-69 score as a 4.5-point underdog. Some of the bounces have gone their way this season as they pulled out overtime victories against Seton Hall and DePaul.Providence has not played in eight days since their game on Saturday with Georgetown was postponed due to COVID issues. The Friars had three other conference games postponed in mid-December due to COVID. They are 7-6 on the season with a 3-4 mark in conference play. Cooley’s teams often continue to improve as the season wears on. He had his group on a six-game winning streak before last season got canceled. Just three players are back from that 19-12 team that played more than 12 minutes-per-game, yet two of them are in the top-three scorers in the Big East. Junior guard David Duke is scoring 19.9 points-per-game. Senior Nate Watson is adding 18.3 points-per-game with the 6’10 center pulling down 7.2 rebounds-per-game. Cooley considers Watson the best post-up player in the nation. The duo is scoring 51.5% of the 74.2 points-per-game that Providence averages per game while providing an inside-out scoring threat that Cooley facilitates with the 301st slowest pace in the nation. Guard A.J. Reeves scores 9.7 points-per-game as an outside shooting threat, but he is questionable for this game with an undisclosed issue.The Friars are eighth in the nation with a 6.9% non-steal turnover rate when they have the basketball. Providence ranks 41st in adjusted offensive efficiency and 101st in adjusted defensive efficiency according to the metrics at kenpom. The Friars only make 32.8% of their 3-pointers on the season, but they only take these shots 31.7% of the time, the 296th lowest rate in the nation. Providence has improved in conference play by making 38.9% of their 3-pointers, third-best in the Big East. The Friars are also holding their conference opponents to a 32.9% clip from 3-point land, third best. Providence’s highest-profile win is against Seton Hall, and they registered a non-conference victory against Davidson. They lost to Indiana and Alabama in non-conference play last month. Creighton had their six-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in a 70-66 upset loss in overtime at Butler as a 7-point favorite. The Bluejays went on a 23-3 run in the second half but still could not stave off overtime as they ultimately lost to the Bulldogs. They played that game without point guard Marcus Zegarowski who missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury. The junior is scoring 14.1 points-per-game while averaging 4.4 assists-per-game. He is questionable for this game. Creighton still has five other players that score at least 7.0 points-per-game, including Denzel Mahoney, whose 15.9 points-per-game scoring average leads the team. The Bluejays rank 11th in the nation in the Associated Press poll with a 10-3 record. They are 6-2 in Big East play with victories against Seton Hall, UConn, and Xavier. Their three losses were a one-point loss to Kansas and Marquette and the Bulldogs in conference play. Creighton ranks tenth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. They are 11th with a 58.5% shooting percentage inside the arc, and they rank 36th with a 38.0% shooting clip from 3-point land. Their 57.8% effective field goal percentage is 11th best. The Bluejays are also playing strong fundamental defense. They are limiting their opponents to just a 43.0% shooting percentage inside the arc. They rank 35th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency using the metrics at kenpom.The Bluejays’ 2-point win on January 2nd was the fifth time in the last ten meetings between these two teams settled by 6 points or less. BookMaker lists Creighton as a 9.5-point favorite, with the total set at 146. The FS1 broadcast starts at 7 PM ET.

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Big Al's Daily Angle: NHL, NBA, EPL and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021

The Wednesday sports card features college basketball, the NBA, the NHL, and the English Premier League. The college basketball card tips off at 1 PM ET, with Davidson hosting Fordham as a 17-point favorite with the total set at 120.5 (all odds from BetOnline). The nationally-televised games begin at 7 PM ET, with Creighton playing at home against Providence on FS1. The Bluejays' six-game winning streak snapped with a 70-66 upset loss at Butler as a 7-point favorite on Saturday. Creighton is now 10-3 on the season, and they rank 11th in the Associated Press poll. The Friars lost their third game in a row with their 79-69 loss at Marquette eight days ago on January 12th as a 4.5-point underdog. This contest is a rematch of the Bluejays’ 67-65 win at Providence as a 4-point favorite on January 2nd. Creighton is a 4-point favorite with an over/under of 146.Colorado travels to Washington at 9 PM ET on ESPN2. The Buffaloes won their fourth straight game to improve to 11-3 with their 77-64 victory against Stanford as a 7.5-point favorite on Saturday. The 1-11 Huskies lost their eighth in a row after an 81-76 loss at UCLA as a 14.5-point underdog on Saturday. Colorado is a 12.5-point road favorite, with the total at 144.5.Boise State plays at home against Fresno State on FS1 at 9 PM ET. The Broncos lost their opening game at BYU, but they have since won eleven straight. They last played on Wednesday, where they defeated Wyoming on the road, 90-70, as an 11.5-point underdog. The Bulldogs are 5-5 after losing two in a row with their 79-65 loss at Nevada as a 6.5-point underdog on Sunday. Boise State is a 15-point favorite with an over/under of 140.Ten games are on the NBA schedule. An ESPN doubleheader tips off at 7:05 PM ET with Boston visiting Philadelphia. These two teams last played in August in the Celtics' four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs. Boston had their five-game winning streak snapped on Monday in a 105-75 loss at home to New York as a 7-point favorite. The loss left them with an 8-4 record. COVID has impacted this team with Jayson Tatum out given quarantine protocols. Philadelphia fell to 9-5 after their loss at Memphis on Saturday by a 106-104 score as a 2-point underdog. The 76ers are also dealing with COVID issues with Seth Curry out indefinitely. Joel Embiid has been out with a knee issue, but he hopes to take the court tonight. The ESPN nightcap has Phoenix traveling to play Houston at 9:35 PM ET. The Suns have lost three of their last four games to see their record fall to 7-5 after getting upset at Memphis on Monday as a 5.5-point favorite, 108-104. The Grizzlies have been without Dario Saric and Jalen Smith, both in the COVID quarantine protocol. They are questionable for this game. Houston has lost four of their last five games after their 125-120 loss at Chicago as a 2-point favorite on Monday. This game will be the Rockets’ fourth since the blockbuster James Harden trade. John Wall is questionable with an illness. Five games are on the NHL schedule. The NBC Sports Network has a double-header starting at 7:05 PM ET with Toronto hosting Edmonton. The Maple Leafs are -144 money line favorites with the total at 6.5. The second game has Minnesota’s visit to Anaheim, with the Wild a -133 money line road favorite with an over/under of 5.5.The English Premier League continues with a double-header on the NBC Sports Network. Manchester City hosts Aston Villa at 1 PM ET as a -1.75 goal line favorite with an over/under of 3.25. Manchester United visits Fulham as a -1 goal line road favorite with the total set at 2.75 at 3:15 PM ET.

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NCAA Tuesday Night Basketball: LSU/Alabama Preview

by Big Al Staff

Tuesday, Jan 19, 2021

The nightcap for ESPN’s Super Tuesday college basketball double-header involves two red-hot teams from the SEC that play fast and score lots of baskets.Alabama is off to their best start in conference play scene 1987 with a 6-0 start. The Crimson Tide have won seven straight games to lift their record to 11-3, and they rank 18th in the Associated Press poll. Nate Oats’ team comes off a 90-59 victory against Arkansas on Saturday, which was the largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent in eight years when they defeated Mississippi State, 75-43. John Petty, Jr. led the way with 17 points. The SEC Players of the Year candidate bypassed the NBA in the offseason to return to Tuscaloosa. The senior is second on the team with a 13.5 points-per-game scoring average while adding 5.3 rebounds-per-game. Sophomore Jordan Shackelford leads the team with a 13.6 points-per-game average. Oats has four starters back from his first year with the program, where they finished 16-15. He fortified this core by bringing several talented players, including former five-star recruit from Villanova, Jahvon Quinerly, and Jordan Bruner, a graduate transfer from Yale. Oats also recruited three four-star freshmen to the program to give this team depth. Alabama is scoring 80.1 points-per-game executing Oats’ “pace-and-space” scheme that plays fast and shoots plenty of 3-pointers. The Crimson Tide are 14th in the nation in possessions per game, and their average possession length of 14.2 seconds is third quickest. They average 30 shots from behind the arc, with these 3-pointers representing 46.1% of their shots from the field, 22nd in the nation. Their 34.1% shooting mark from downtown for the season is ordinary, but Oats has seen his team improve that mark to a 39.4% clip in conference play. The Tide also rebounds 32.4% of their missed shots, 64th in the country. Their offense ranks 22nd in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency by kenpom for the season. The Alabama defense ranks 16th in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. They force turnovers in 21.5% of their opponent’s possessions, 72nd. They also hold their opponents to a 30.6% shooting mark from 3-point land, 75th. However, Oats’ team is vulnerable to opponents committed to crashing the offensive glass. The Crimson Tide allow their opponents to rebound 29.8% of their missed shots, 239th in the nation. This group earned a signature victory against Tennessee. They also have quality wins against Florida, Arkansas, and Kentucky during their seven-game winning streak. Their three losses are against Stanford, Clemson, and Western Kentucky.LSU has won their last four games after their 85-80 win against South Carolina on Saturday. The Tigers are scoring 86.1 points-per-game, which has helped them earn a 5-1 record in conference play. Head coach Will Wade has three starters and an additional rotation player back from the group that finished 21-10 last season. This program is two-years removed from winning the SEC title, so expectations remain high in Baton Rouge. Impact freshman Cameron Thomas leads the team with a 22.1 points-per-game scoring average. Sophomore forward Trendon Watford is adding 18.7 points-per-game along with 7.0 rebounds-per-game. Junior point guard Ja'Vonte Smart is scoring 15.2 points-per-game while dishing out 4.0 assists-per-game. Junior forward Darius Days is scoring 13.7 points-per-game while pulling down 8.0 rebounds-per-game.The Tigers do not play as fast as the Crimson Tide, but they will likely embrace the fast pace. LSU ranks fifth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. They are second with a 56.9% shooting percentage inside the arc. The Tigers also rebound 34.1% of their missed shots, 31st. Yet the play on the other end of the court continues to a weakness for Wade-coached teams. LSU ranks 107 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Opponents make 52.0% of their shots inside the arc, 240th in the country. The Tigers also let opponents pull down 31.5% of their missed shots, 286th in the nation. COVID has impacted the LSU season with games postponed and re-arranged due to outbreaks inside and outside their program. Wade did not coach two games given quarantine protocols, which have kept this team at full strength. The Tigers’ two losses were against Saint Louis and Florida. Their highest-profile victory is against Arkansas. Hosting Alabama is this LSU team's biggest test of the season. BetAnySports lists Alabama as a -1 point road favorite with the total set at 164.5. The ESPN2 broadcasts start at 9 PM ET.

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Ness Notes: Tuesday, Jan 19

by Larry Ness

Tuesday, Jan 19, 2021

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: Let's start with the latest AP poll, released Monday afternoon. Gonzaga and Baylor opened No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason poll and remained 1 and 2 for the NINTH straight poll. The same teams appeared in the top-five, as 8-1 Villanova remained No. 3, despite not playing since Dec 23. 12-2 Iowa leapfrogged 11-2 Texas, as the Hawkeyes are now No. 4 and the Longhorns are No. 5.  10-1 Tennessee is up to No. 6 (from 10th), while 11-1 Michigan held on to the No. 7 spot despite getting crushed 75-57 at Minnesota. Rounding out the top-10 are 11-1 Houston at No. 8, 10-3 Kansas at No. 9 and 11-3 Wisconsin at No. 10. 9-2 UVa jumped five sports to No. 13 and 11-3 Alabama went from unranked to No. 18 on the strength of a seven-game winning streak. Illinois opened 8th in the preseason and is lucky to still be ranked (No. 22) with its 9-5 record. Duke has played just EIGHT games and at 5-3, fell out of the top-25, ending the second-longest active streak of consecutive rankings at 91. Gonzaga is now second at 87, while Kansas was ranked for the 229th straight week. UCLA opened No. 23 in the preseason poll but lost its opener at SD State. However, at 11-2 overall (7-0 in the Pac 12), the Bruins are back at No. 23. Speaking of teams NOT meeting expectations (like Duke, currently unranked), we have preseason No. 10 Kentucky at 4-8, preseason No. 13 Michigan at 8-4, preseason No. 16 North Carolina at 8-5 and preseason No. 18 Arizona St at 4-6.Monday saw No. 2 Baylor move to 13-0 with an 77-69 home win over No. 9 Kansas, which fell to 10-4 (bye-bye top-10 ranking next Monday Jayhawks). However, Baylor didn't cover as an 8 1/2-point favorite, as Kansas threw in a "meaningless," bank-shot 3-pointer at the buzzer. In games between ranked opponents, the higher ranked team is 27-15 (.643) SU but just 21-21 (50.0%) ATS. The lone ranked team in action against an unranked foe on Monday was No. 23 UConn, which lost 74-40 at home to a St John's team that entered just 7-7. Tuesday's schedule has no scheduled games between ranked opponents but does have SEVEN games between ranked and unranked opponents, including three from the AP's top-10. No. 3 Villanova is hopeful of taking the court tonight at home vs 9-5 Seton Hall, for the first time since Dec 23. The Wildcats are favored by nine points. No. 6 Tennessee is 10-1 and will travel to Florida to play the 6-4 Gators (Vols are favored by seven points) and No. 7 Michigan, off its first loss of the season, is home against 8-6 Maryland (Wolverines are favored by 10 points).NBA: Monday was MLK Day and the league featured a busy NINE-game schedule, including a TNT tripleheader. I doubt there was much interest in Memphis beating Phoenix 108-104 (except to bettors of that game) but the Bucks/Nets and Warriors/Lakers game got most people's attention. The East's two-best teams (my opinion) went toe-to toe with Kevin Durant making the go-ahead three-pointer with 36 seconds left in a 125-123 Brooklyn win. Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, while Durant finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists to give the Nets their FOURTH straight victory. Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Milwaukee, which had its four-game winning streak stopped. Middleton added 25 points (but missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer) and Jrue Holiday had 22. The defending champion Lakers welcomed the Warriors to Staples Center with the league's best record (11-3) and on a five-game winning streak but Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Lakers 115-113. LeBron James' three-pointer gave the Lakers a 97-83 advantage early in the fourth before the Warriors battled back. They trailed 106-97 with 5:52 remaining before going on a 15-2 run that gave Golden State its first lead. LBJ had a chance to win it at the end but missed a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Lakers had their five-game winning streak snapped. According to Stats LLC, it is the first time in 284 home games that James and his team took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter and lost in regulation. Just another night in the NBA.Four weeks in, the Lakers still own the NBA's best record at 11-4 but the Clippers are hot on their trail at 10-4, after four straight wins. The Jazz have won five straight and are now 9-4. Utah's five-game winning streak is now the longest active in the NBA, tied with, of all teams, the Memphis Grizzlies (just 7-6 on the season). Boston's 8-4 record tops the East, although the 9-5 Bucks own the league's second-best point differential at plus-9.8 PPG (Lakers are No. 1 at plus-10.2), while Boston's is only plus-1.3. The Nets have now won FOUR in a row and at 9-6, own the 4th-best point differential at 5.6 PPG (Clippers are 3rd-best at 6.3 PPG). Charlotte opened 6-2 but has now lost SIX straight (longest-active streak), although 3-9 Minnesota and 3-10 Detroit have the league's two-worst records. The T-wolves have a minus-10.1 PPG differential, the ONLY team losing by an average of double digits. Interestingly enough, Minnesota is 5-7 ATS (not bad), while Detroit actually owns a winning ATS record of 7-5-1. Following that, it should surprise no one that the league's best ATS record (10-4) belongs to the 6-8 Chicago Bulls. And so it goes...Wednesday's Notes will feature a first-look at the NFL's Championship Sunday, the first week of the NHL and more.Good luck...Larry

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Big Al's Daily Angle: EPL, NBA, NHL and NCAA Basketball Preview

by Big Al Staff

Tuesday, Jan 19, 2021

The Tuesday sports card features college basketball, the NBA, the NHL, and the English Premier League. The college basketball card tips off at 1 PM ET with UNC-Wilmington playing at Towson. The nationally-televised games begin at 7 PM ET. Tennessee ranks sixth in the country in the current AP poll with a 10-1 record after defeating Vanderbilt on Saturday as a 21.5-point favorite. The Volunteers visit Florida at 7 PM ET on ESPN. The Gators are 6-4 after losing their third game in their last four in a 72-69 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday as a 1-point underdog. Tennessee is a 6.5-point road favorite with the total set at 137 (all odds from BetOnline).Michigan hosts Maryland on FS1 at 7 PM ET. The Wolverines lost their first game of the season on Saturday in a 75-57 upset loss at Minnesota as a 5-point favorite. They rank seventh by the AP with an 11-1 record. The Terrapins are 8-6 after their 100-58 win against Wingate on Friday. Michigan is a 10-point favorite with an over/under of 141.USC travels to Oregon State at 7 PM ET on ESPN2. The Trojans are 11-2 with six straight wins after they defeated Washington State on Saturday by an 85-77 score as a 12-point favorite. The Beavers snapped a two-game losing streak to improve their record to 6-5 with an 80-79 upset win at Arizona State as a 6-point underdog. USC is a 10.5-point road favorite with an over/under of 139.DePaul plays at home against Butler at 7 PM ET on the CBS Sports Network. The Blue Demons are 2-4 after ending their four-game losing streak with a 77-58 win against Valparaiso as an 8-point favorite on Saturday. The Bulldogs are 4-7 after upsetting Creighton on Saturday by a 70-66 score as a 2-point underdog. DePaul is a 1-point favorite with a total at 135.5.Winthrop travels to Presbyterian at 7 PM ET on ESPNU. The Eagles remained undefeated this season in 13 games with their 70-50 victory against Longwood on Friday as a 16.5-point favorite. The Blues Hose are 3-5 on the year after their 73-51 loss at Campbell as a 7.5-point underdog on Friday. Winthrop is a -16-point road favorite with an over/under of 145.Villanova hosts Seton Hall at 9 PM ET on FS1. The Wildcats rank third by the AP despite not having played since December 23rd due to COVID issues. The Wildcats are 8-1 after defeating Marquette on the road by an 85-68 score as a 5-point favorite almost a month ago. The Pirates are 9-5 after winning their fourth game in five cones on January 9th in a 76-68 triumph at DePaul as a 4-point favorite. Villanova is a 9.5-point favorite with a total of 140.5.LSU plays at home against Alabama on ESPN2 at 9 PM ET. The Tigers are 10-2 with four wins in a row after their 85-80 victory on Saturday as a 5.5-point favorite against South Carolina. The Crimson Tide ranks 18th by the AP with seven straight wins for an 11-3 record after defeating Arkansas by a 90-59 score as a 3.5-point favorite on Saturday. LSU is a 1-point favorite with an over/under of 163.5. Duke plays at Pittsburgh on ESPN at 9 PM ET. The Blue Devils are 5-3 after losing at Virginia Tech last Tuesday by a 74-67 score as a 3.5-point underdog. The Panthers are 7-2 after upsetting Syracuse on Saturday by a 96-76 score as a 3.5-point underdog. Duke is a 2.5-point favorite with a total of 141.Utah State hosts Colorado State at 9 PM ET on the CBS Sports Network. The Aggies are 11-3 with ten straight victories after they defeated San Diego State, 64-59, on Saturday as a 3.5-point favorite. The Rams are 10-2 with four straight wins after their 88-61 win at San Jose State on Saturday laying 19.5-points. Utah State is a 7.5-point favorite with an over/under of 137.5.The NBA has a light schedule with two games on tap, both starting at 9 PM ET. Utah hosts New Orleans as a 6.5-point favorite, with the total at 218. Denver is at home against Oklahoma City as a 9.5-point favorite with an over/under of 218. Neither game is on national television.The NHL has seven games on their Tuesday card. Pittsburgh hosts Washington at 7 PM on the NBC Sports Network. The Penguins are 1-2-0 after winning the opening game of their back-to-back with the Capitals on Sunday in a 4-3 victory in overtime. Washington lost their first game of the season with that setback. Pittsburgh is a -125 money line favorite with a total of 6.5.Two matches take place in the English Premier League. West Ham United plays at home against West Bromwich Albion at 1 PM ET as a -1 goal line favorite with an over/under of 2.5 on the NBC Peacock app. Chelsea and Leicester City play at 3:15 PM ET on the NBC Sports Network in a pick ‘em matchup with the total set at 2.5.

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