RICK NEEDHAM'S BETTER BETTOR


AMERICAN PHARAOH

"SARATOGA / TRAVERS STAKES BOUND!"


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SARATOGA RACE COURSE (SARATOGA SPRINGS, NEW YORK) FRIDAY, AUGUST 28, 2015

If you blinked, you might have missed it. American Pharoah was on the Saratoga Race Course main track for all of five minutes for an easy gallop Aug. 27. It was the Triple Crown winner's first time on the track, following his arrival one day earlier. Under regular exercise rider Jorge Alvarez, the Pioneerof the Nile colt stepped onto the track at approximately 6:40 a.m. ET to get a look at the track where on Aug. 29 he will mount a bid in the Travers Stakes (gr. I). His one-mile gallop commenced at the half-mile pole. Zayat Stables' homebred runner moved fluidly and efficiently throughout the gallop. When done, Alvarez turned the colt around at the 5 1/2-furlong pole and jogged back to Smokey, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's stable pony, who was ridden by Baffert's assistant, Jimmy Barnes. Alvarez said American Pharoah was his usual self.

"You always want to make sure they handle the track (their first time on it)," Alvarez said. "That's what you're looking for from a horse. So far, he's been to (numerous) tracks, and this one is no differentóhe handled it really, really good." Barnes said that he toyed with the idea of jogging American Pharoah, which is the colt's typical routine the day after he ships. But when American Pharoah threw some bucks shortly after arriving at Saratoga, Barnes had a change of heart. "From what I saw yesterday afternoon, it looked like we needed to gallop," Barnes said. "He was too happy, too fresh." Barnes, like Alvarez, was happy with the gallop. "Very high energy; just what you want to see shipping in for a race," the assistant trainer said. "He pretty much floats over any track we take him to. (What's) amazing is how quick he gets back around to you. I will turn him loose, and it just seems that it's a minute or two, and he is already back around again." About 40 members of the media lined the fence of the backstretch to watch the gallop, which took place on a chilly and cloudy morning. Several horsemen also were on hand to see American Pharoah, among them trainer Steve Klesaris, who said, "He looks well for a horse who went through the Triple Crown."

RACE #7 - SARATOGA RACE COURSE - 4:09 PM

The West Point Stakes

8½ FURLONGS INNER TURF THREE YEARS OLD AND UPWARD STAKES $150,000.00 PURSE

#3 KING KREESA
#4 SARATOGA SNACKS
#6 LUBASH
#5 KHARAFA

This turf race for New York-breds is named for the U. S. Military Academy, which is situated on the west bank of the Hudson River in West Point, N.Y., about 135 miles south of Saratoga. In 1778, Gen. George Washington personally selected Thaddeus Kosciuszko, one of the heroes of Saratoga, to design the fortifications for West Point, which is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States. Following the Revolutionary War, several soldiers and legislators, including Washington, Knox, Hamilton and John Adams, desiring to eliminate America's wartime reliance on foreign engineers and artillerists, urged the creation of an institution devoted to the arts and sciences of warfare.In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy, after ensuring that those attending the Academy would be representative of a democratic society. Here in the 36th renewal of this stakes test, #3 KING KREESA qualifies as a TrackMaster PLUS "PowerPony," is the overall speed leader in this field this afternoon, and has produced "POWER RUN PERFORMANCES" in five straight, hitting the board in three, including back-to-back "POWER RUN WINS" in her 2nd and 3rd races back. Jockey Jose Ortiz has been in her irons on three previous occasions, winning twice, en route to a 767 return on investment in the process, and is back this afternoon for his 4th ride, gunning for a "Hat Trick Win!" #4 SARATOGA SNACKS, the morning line favorite, has hit the board in five straight, winning twice, including a "POWER RUN WIN" in his last start.


RACING NEWS: The $1.6 million Travers Stakes, headed by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, will be televised by NBC network during a two-hour program Aug. 29. The 4-6 p.m. EDT broadcast will also include the $1 million Sword Dancer (gr. IT) and Forego Stakes (gr. I) on the stakes-laden card at Saratoga Race Course. The Travers is the fifth of 10 telecasts that are part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series leading into the World Championships Oct. 30-31 at Keeneland. Laffit Pincay III hosts live coverage from Saratoga, joined by analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, reporter Donna Brothers, analysts/handicappers Eddie Olczyk and Bob Neumeier, and race caller Larry Collmus. Daily Racing Form's Matt Bernier will also serve as handicapper. "I can't wait to see American Pharoah deliver another breathtaking performance in the Travers at Saratoga this Saturday," said Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey, five-time Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner, and three-time Travers winner. "I may never see another one like him in my lifetime." The Travers telecast will include an interview with the colt's Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a feature on the history of past champions running at Saratoga, and Bailey's look at what makes American Pharoah perhaps the greatest horse of all time.


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Disclaimer: Every attempt has been made to insure accuracy, however since this report is prepared and typed by hand, errors, including typographical and numerical, can be made. It is the responsibility of the end user to "cross check" these selections against the actual entries and program numbers.


BRAZILIAN "BRAHMA BEER LONGSHOTS" - FRIDAY, AUGUST 28, 2015

WOODBINE

RACE #1: #2 STAR JOURNEY is 4-1 in the morning line, takes a slight class drop (-1), and has nice overall speed for this sprint at the "specialized distance" of 7.0 furlongs on the "dirt."

FINGER LAKES

RACE #2: The 9-2 shot, #5 GOLD GHOST, has hit the board in "POWER RUN FASHION" in five straight, including a pair of "POWER RUN WINS" being embedded in this recent streak of racing consistency.

Ultra Longshot Angles

NOTE: The entries listed below have been "found" utilizing TrackMaster's fantastic new product Ultra Angles ... I have utilized this product to scan EVERY TRACK in North America for entries today meeting the following 3 criteria:

a. Odds are AT LEAST 4-1
b. The entry must be the TOP POWER RATED entry in the field
c. The entry must also have the BEST SPEED in this field for today's distance and surface!

Ellis Park Race #8 - 4:10PM - #7 ELUSIVE NEKO 8/1
Evangeline Downs - Race #3 - 6:44PM - #7 FANCIER 5/1
Evangeline Downs - Race #4 - 7:11PM - #11 QUICK COUNT 8/1

NOTE: Listed Post Times are given in the local time zone of the track.

cartoon

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NOTES ON CLASS: The TrackMaster PLUS software uses a sophisticated mathematical formula to calculate the "class" of a particular race. It is important to note that this calculation is NOT based on purse structure, but on the competitive level of the entries in today's field. Therefore, it is possible (and not uncommon), that an entry may be racing for a higher purse today than in his or her last race, but in a "TrackMaster Sense" is dropping in class, because the overall abilities of the entries in today's race are not as competitive as the entries in his or her last race. The TrackMaster class scale is numeric, and basically ranges from 50 to 100, and is particularly helpful in judging entries that are "shipping" in from another track. In my analysis of a race, I often note that an entry is "dropping in class," or "stepping up in class." Following this statement, you will see a (number in parenthesis). The value of that particular number indicates the degree of the class change. EXAMPLE: "#4 SIN CITY takes a fairly significant class drop (-8) this evening." This indicates that this entry is dropping by 8 TrackMaster Class Levels from his or her last race. It does not necessarily mean that this entry is racing for a lower purse, only racing against a less competitive field.

NOTES: I frequently use the term, "POWER RUN" in this column. It is my terminology for a previous race run at a speed, which if duplicated today, should compete for the winner's circle at the class level in which the entry is competing today. Space requirements do not allow for a thorough discussion of this calculation, however, if you would like a short essay on how the "POWER RUN" is calculated, kindly send me some EMAIL at rneedham1@yahoo.com and I'll send you a copy of my "POWER RUN" file.


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    Bouncers
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Rick Needham - Football 2014-2015

2015-2016 FOOTBALL NOTES:

Rick is having some minor "heart related" medical procedures this fall ... he does not feel comfortable "charging" the annual subscription fee of $149.00 for his weekly reports, since there is a possibility that he may "miss a week!" Soooooo ... the reports will be totally free, until the procedures are finished sometime in late November (however, there may be a "missing weekend") ... Rick will have a subscription package for the college playoffs/bowls - N.F.L. playoffs through The Super Bowl! Send Rick an email requesting his free weekly reports. Note: Rick does NOT handicap N.F.L. Pre-Season games!

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Week Ending - January 18, 2014

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY!

Packers at Seahawks (MINUS 7.0) - Sunday, January 18 - 3:05 PM - FOX

Rick's Overview: It is almost that time. Almost time for the biggest game of them all. But first, we play out the Championship rounds and the NFC Championship features the Green Bay Packers heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. Both teams have widely been conceived as the best of the NFC crop for most of the season so this is a fitting way to determine the conference representative in the Superbowl. These teams are about as different as you can get in terms of approach with Green Bay leading the NFL in points scored and Seattle allowing the fewest. The Packers have some of the most recognizable names in the league while the Hawks have a dozen guys you have never heard of. Throw in the 12th man along with Aaron Rodgersí iffy calf, and you have quite the matchup. The curtain had barely closed on the Packers defeat of the Cowboys last week before the online betting sites tabbed Seattle as 7.5 point favorites. That line has held during the early betting, even under heavy public action on Green Bay, a weekly betting darling. It might be one of the squarest bets in the game each week, but it is hard to ignore the leagueís best offense getting seven and the hook. Green Bay will have to buck a recent trend as they are just 3-7 against the spread in their last ten on the road against winning teams. Seattle has four ATS wins in their last five playoff games at home and are 5-1 against the spread in their last six playoff games overall. This is a rematch of sorts as the teams squared off to open this season. The Packers travelled to Seattle in that game as well and wound up on the wrong side of a 36-16 decision. Green Bay played some of its worst football during that early stretch but the Seahawks took it to them and limited Rodgers to 189 yards passing while giving up just 80 yards on the ground. Marshawn Lynch racked up 110 yards and two touchdowns while Russell Wilson added two scores through the air and Seattle cruised to a relatively easy win. There is one more Seattle/Green Bay game of note in recent history. If you remember, the Seahawks stole a 14-12 win in Green Bay during the 2012 season with the help of the replacement refs botching a call that became known as the ďFail MaryĒ.

It really doesnít take long to figure out the keys in this one. Can Green Bay move the ball effectively enough in a hostile environment against a stellar defense and can they stop the methodical nature of the Seattle offense. The health of Rodgers is paramount in answering the first question but letís assume he will don the Superman S under his uniform at least one more weekend. I donít see how you can think he wonít given his gutty performance last week. The Packers have utilized Eddie Lacy and the run in covering up for Rodgers a bit but Seattle is the best run stopping unit in the league, allowing just 81 yards a game. Lacy didnít have much success in Week 1 and he did miss a series with an asthma-like episode last week so it remains to be seen how effective he will be and if he is ready for a full workload. If the Seahawks stymie the run, it puts Rodgers in serious peril as it was clear last week that he is limited to the point where he cannot escape a collapsing pocket or deliver a deep ball under duress.

When it comes to stopping Seattle at home, the Packers will need to stop the run first and foremost. The Seahawks are the best rushing team in the NFL, averaging 172 yards per game and get a boost there with the effectiveness of Russell Wilson and his scramble game. Wilson rushed for 849 yards and 6 touchdowns on the year and has an uncanny way of breaking a defenseís back with key runs. He also keeps passing plays alive by escaping trouble and often finds wide open receivers as the coverage fails. Lynch is the sparkplug however and the 23rd ranked rush defense of the Packers is due for a heavy dose of Marshawn. The skill players are average at best for Seattle but Wilson is equitable with the ball and Green Bay will have to cover every player on the field. There are ten Seahawks with at least one touchdown pass but none have more than four so there is no real focus for the defense. That turns out to be hard to defend for an entire game. Dallas had Green Bay on the ropes for most of the game last week and they did so with a persistent run game and efficient passing. Tony Romo completed 15-of-19 passes and was devilishly close to completing the one that the Cowboys would have probably turned into an upset win. Seattle has all the elements that Dallas used against the Packers along with a much better defense and the home crowd. Green Bay will need something special to pull an upset this week and that will be a tall order given how well Seattle takes care of the ball and how underwhelming Green Bay is on special teams. This one will really be on A-Rodís shoulders (and calf). The complications set in for Seattle if they are behind and are mandated to throw. It doesnít happen often, especially at home but the ĎHawks passing game is just 28th in the league and too many dropbacks will let Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers zero in on Wilson.

Rick's Bottom Line: The 7.0 seems like a large number at first glance but the immense home field advantage coupled with the injury concerns of Rodgers makes that number seem just about right. Seattle is rolling on defense after getting some healthy bodies back in the lineup and their secondary is best suited to take on the challenge of covering Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. A healthy Rodgers is probably enough to get my vote with the points but I think Seattle is better than they were last year at this point and Green Bay is ripe for the picking. Seattle will stuff the run and scheme to move Rodgers to expose his lack of mobility. Lynch sees plenty of success on the ground and Wilson hits the few key throws that turn into daggers for Green Bayís chances. It is a big number but Seattle gets out of this game with a 30-20 win. I'll TAKE SEATTLE to both win, and cover!

RICK'S "HOT SPOT" BONUS PLAYS!

Patriots (Minus 7.0) over Colts
The Over (47.0) Packers at Seahawks



Bengals at Colts (Minus 3.0) - Sunday, January 4, 2015 - 1:00 PM CBS

Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1 SU, 8-7-1 ATS) vs. Indianapolis Colts (11-5 SU, 10-5-1 ATS)

Rick's Overview: It seems just like yesterday that the NFL season was kicking off, now here we are, already starting the playoffs. One of the best games of the opening weekend will be the Cincinnati Bengals taking on the Indianapolis Colts. Both of these teams won double digit games, and both teams have the talent to make a deep post season run. On paper, Indy looks like the sure fire favorite here, but this game could go either way. Yes, the Colts have the home field advantage, but like they say.... "Any given Sunday." The line opens with the Colts favored at home by 3.5 points. The 3.5 point spreads always scare me, because I am the king of getting killed by the hook. The total points are set at 50 combined and I would guess that this game would end somewhere in that ballpark. Both of these teams have been quite successful against the spread this season, with the Colts being a little more dominant at 10-5-1 ATS while the Bengals are 8-7-1. As of Tuesday morning, 68% of the action was on the Indianapolis Colts to cover the 3.5, and the line dropped to 3.0 on Thursday. while most think the score will actually go under the 50 combined points.

Before the season started, I liked the Colts to make a run at the AFC Title. They may still be a year or so away, but hey, here they are hosting a playoff game after winning the AFC South division. At home in Lucas Oil Stadium this season, the Colts are 6-2 with their only losses coming to the Eagles and the Patriots...both who are good playoff teams. Their six home wins this season include victories over the Baltimore Ravens, and this Cincinnati Bengals team. The last time these two teams met, the Colts won 27-0. I am not seeing another shutout on the horizon, but I like the home teams chances. In 2014, the Colts were number one in the NFL in passing yards. Andrew Luck and the Colts receivers were able to average over 300 yards per game in the air. The running game for Indy was no slouch either gaining 100 yards a game also. In order to get this playoff win and to cover the 3.5, the Colts need to do just what they did the last time they met the Bengals just a couple of months ago. On October 19, when the Colts dominated the Bengals 27-0, Indy held Cincinnati to just 135 total yards. The Colts were also able to sack Andy Dalton four times and the Indy defense caused the Bengals to convert just one third down on thirteen tries. It was a beatdown in every since of the word. If Indy plays with that same attitude, I see them easily winning again.

The game in Indianapolis was by far the Bengals worst performance of 2014. They want nothing more than to just consider that game a fluke and get back out there and get some revenge on Sunday. In order to come in and win this game, the Bengals need a much more balanced offensive attack. In 2014, Andy Dalton and the Bengals only averaged about 213 yards per game in the air, which was not even good enough to crack the NFL's top 20 in passing. On the ground however, Cincinnati was able to be highly successful. Led by both Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the Bengals ended the 2014 regular season ranked 6th in the NFL in rushing. The Colts realized last time that stopping the run is key, and that is exactly what they did. This time around, the Bengals need to open up the offense and put the Colts defense on their heels. If Cincy plays one dimensional, I do not see them making this much of a game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals goal is simple...pressure Andrew Luck. As great as Luck is, when under pressure, he is known to make a few mistakes. In 2014, Luck threw 40 touchdowns, but he did also throw 16 interceptions and fumbled the ball 12 times. Luck is human and can make mistakes, but if he has all day to throw, it will get very ugly for the Bengals.

Rick's Bottom Line:This is playoff game. Each team will come and play their best. Everyone will move a little quicker, hit a little harder, and play a little more focused. It is win or go home. I know that 27-0 game earlier this season should have no bearing on my pick here, but it does. I do not like this match up for the Bengals and I truly see another win by the Colts. I do not think it will be a 27-0 blowout, but I do see Indy making enough plays to pull away late in the second half. Colts will beat the Bengals 28-17. So, I'll TAKE THE COLTS to both win and cover.

BIRMINGHAM BOWL - SATURDAY, JANUARY 3, 2015 - 1:00 PM - ESPN2

EAST CAROLINA VS. FLORIDA (MINUS 7.0)

- East Carolina was rolling right along, hanging 70 points on North Carolina and looking like a sure thing to be the Group of Five representative in one of the big bowls. Instead, the Pirates lost three of their last five games as the defense faltered in key stretches and the offense sputtered in a 20-10 loss to Temple. Even so, with the nationís second-best passing offense, and a run defense that holds up well, thereís a chance to make amends if the team can play like it did over the first half of the year.

- The Gators are just playing an exhibition as they wait for their new head coach Ė Jim McElwain Ė to come in and make the program his, but this could still be a good bowl team with the nationís ninth-best defense and a strong, pounding ground attack that can take control of games when it gets into a lather. Need the passing game to work? Good luck with that. Out of the five losses, three game by five points or fewer to LSU, South Carolina (in OT) and Florida State. The blowouts came to Florida and Alabama Ė no shame there.

Rick's Reaction: Can the Florida power running game and nasty defense keep on rolling with D.J. Durkin keeping the seat warm for Jim McElwain? East Carolinaís offense wonít be able to get things moving through the air against the Gator secondary, and while Florida wonít start rolling points in bunches, itíll control the game from the start. My (now manually operated) SportsMaster for Football Software has Florida winning by 7.0 ... so I'll sit it out ... you can "flip a coin" if you want to wager!"


COTTON BOWL - THURSDAY, JANUARY 1, 2015 - 1:00 PM - ESPN

MICHIGAN STATE VS. BAYLOR (PLUS 3.0)

- Disappointed that it didnít get into the playoff, the Bears can only blame themselves for not playing a real non-conference game and with a 41-27 loss at West Virginia. The co-Big 12 champions lead the nation in total offense and scoring offense, hanging up 45 points a game against everyone buy Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State. There aren’t a lot of mistakes Ė finishing sixth in the nation in turnover margin Ė and after last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss and with the playoff snub, motivation wonít be a problem.

- Michigan State has had a strangely successful season. Going 10-2 with a win over Michigan is great for the program, but coming off a Rose Bowl season, going 0-2 in the two games that really mattered Ė Oregon and Ohio State Ė was a dud. Whereís the big win? Nebraska? Not really. Maryland? Penn State? The Spartans are good, and theyíre getting a sweet bowl spot, but they need to do something big to show that itís worth of a potential top five finish. If Oregon and Ohio State play for the national title, it could be argued that MSU is the third-best team.

Rick's Reaction: If thereís an eight-team playoff, these two are in. Thereís not an eight-team playoff, so these two are playing in a bowl full of green. Baylor should come out angry and fired up after being the first ever first team out in the playoff format, but Michigan Stateís offensive balance will be the key. Get ready for a lopsided time of possession in MSUís favor thanks to a big day from Jeremy Langford. I'll TAKE MICHIGAN STATE to win outright!


TAXSLAYER BOWL - FRIDAY, JANUARY 2, 2015 3:20 PM - ESPN

IOWA VS. TENNESSEE (MINUS 3½)

- A massive disappointment considering the relatively easy schedule and the solid team returning, Iowa needs to rebound with a bowl win after losing three of its last four games including a blasting against Minnesota and two heartbreakers to Wisconsin and Nebraska. The best win this year was against Ö Pitt? Illinois? Thereís a prove-it factor for a coaching staff thatís under scrutiny after such a rough year, but the team doesnít get penalized, the offense can get hot at times, and the pass defense is terrific. - It always seems like Tennessee is rebuilding, but there really is something interesting happening with a slew of great young talents and a dynamic quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. The defense has been excellent, and itís had to be with the offense struggling so much until Dobbs became a factor. Winning three of the last four games, with the only loss coming to Missouri, has made this a hot team at the right time, and with a win, the offseason finally might not be about how the team is still a year away.

Rick's Reaction: You try to figure out Iowa. The Hawkeyes did a nice job at the end of the year of hanging around, but they couldnít complete the comeback against Wisconsin, and they couldnít close out Nebraska. Tennessee is going to be looking for a statement in the Butch Jones era, and the speed and athleticism will be too much on both sides of the ball. Itíll be a ragged game, but Joshua Dobbs will be the difference. The folks in "Vegas" have this one "pegged perfectly" ... I'll probably sit it out ... but my software has Tennessee winning by 3.0. Maybe in the 20-17 range.


MICHIGAN STATE VS. BAYLOR (3.0)

- Disappointed that it didnít get into the playoff, the Bears can only blame themselves for not playing a real non-conference game and with a 41-27 loss at West Virginia. The co-Big 12 champions lead the nation in total offense and scoring offense, hanging up 45 points a game against everyone buy Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State. There arenít a lot of mistakes Ė finishing sixth in the nation in turnover margin Ė and after last yearís Fiesta Bowl loss and with the playoff snub, motivation wonít be a problem.

- Michigan State has had a strangely successful season. Going 10-2 with a win over Michigan is great for the program, but coming off a Rose Bowl season, going 0-2 in the two games that really mattered Ė Oregon and Ohio State Ė was a dud. Whereís the big win? Nebraska? Not really. Maryland? Penn State? The Spartans are good, and theyíre getting a sweet bowl spot, but they need to do something big to show that itís worth of a potential top five finish. If Oregon and Ohio State play for the national title, it could be argued that MSU is the third-best team.

Rick's Reaction: If thereís an eight-team playoff, these two are in. Thereís not an eight-team playoff, so these two are playing in a bowl full of green. Baylor should come out angry and fired up after being the first ever first team out in the playoff format, but Michigan Stateís offensive balance will be the key. Get ready for a lopsided time of possession in MSUís favor thanks to a big day from Jeremy Langford. I'll TAKE MICHIGAN STATE to win outright!


FIESTA BOWL - WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2014 - 4:00 PM - ESPN

ARIZONA (MINUS 3.5) VS. BOISE STATE

- Forget about Arizonaís incredibly disappointing close to the year against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship and focus more on the incredible season under Rich Rodriguez, winning ten games and beating the Ducks in Eugene. The offense was dynamic and effective throughout the year against everyone except UCLA in a 17-7 loss, and in Santa Clara in the title game. While the defense struggled at times, it has the best linebacker in America in Scooby Wright and is strong at taking the ball away.

- How were the Broncos going to do moving on after Chris Petersen? Bryan Harsin came in and ripped off an 11-win season with a Mountain West championship. The O might have struggled a bit in the title game win over Fresno State, but it exploded over the second half of the season scoring 51 points or more in five of the last seven games before the championship. The defense is solid, the offense balanced and explosive, and everything is back on track after a rough 2013 Ė Boise State is back to being Boise State.

Rick's Reaction: Okay, Boise State, itís time to show that last year was an aberration and that youíre ready to be back among the big-time discussion again. Arizona is going to want to prove that the Pac-12 championship wasnít the real Arizona, and itís going to help to have the home crowd there to fire it up, but the Broncos can play. The Boise State offensive balance will be the key. I'll TAKE BOISE STATE to beat the spread!"


FOSTER FARMS BOWL - TUESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2014 10:00 PM

MARYLAND VS. STANFORD (MINUS 14.0)

Foster Farms Bowl , Dec. 30 Maryland vs. Stanford - Marylandís first season in the Big Ten was a relative success, even if it was inconsistent. The offense struggled with no ground game and little explosion, and the defense was nothing special, but the Terps still managed to get to seven wins by winning most of the games they were supposed to with the exception a late collapse against Rutgers. How inconsistent have they been? Theyíve gone win-loss-win-loss over the last eight games, but on the plus side, the last game in the pattern was an L.

- A far, far cry from the BCS game-playing, Pac-12-winning version of the past few seasons, Stanford never quite found its groove and never really looked the part from the start. The offense stalled to a dead stop at times in the middle of the season, and it didnít start to perk up until late with a blowout win over California and a Pac-12-killing thumping of UCLA. The defense is still the Stanford defense, allowing fewer than 300 yards and just 16 points per game, but can the offense perk up? Can this be a catalyst to a potentially strong 2015? It gets a virtual home game, and it needs to take advantage.

Rick's Reaction: Bleecccchhhhh. Marylandís offense doesnít work against decent defenses, and Stanford shows up for bowl games. Being in Santa Clara wonít matter much for a Cardinal fan base that isnít going to travel next door to fill the place up, but itíll still be a home field advantage. David Shaw and his Stanford D will put the clamps down from the start. I'll TAKE STANFORD to both win, and cover!

ARKANSAS (MINUS 6.0) VS. TEXAS

- After not winning an SEC game in 2013, and struggling in conference play early in 2014, it all started to come together for Arkansas under Bret Bielema winning three games in four before the loss to Missouri to end the regular season. Even so, the Hogs are in a bowl, and are much better than their 6-6 record considering all six losses were to fantastic teams. The running game is among the strongest in America, and the ball control attack works.

- Texas isnít supposed to be playing in minor bowls as it fights to come up with a winning season, but thatís the deal and thatís its place in the world at the moment. Charlie Strong deserves credit in his first season for keeping everyone fighting in the second half, with a three-game winning streak leading to bowl eligibility before getting blasted by TCU, but this has to be a stepping-stone to more. The defense overall has been great, especially against the pass, but the offense has been a disaster at times against the decent teams. QB Tyrone Swoopes and the team need the extra bowl practices, and theyíre getting them.

Rick's Reaction: A lot of this depends on whether or not the Bret Bielema To Michigan wacky rumors have any legs. The Texas run defense is going to load up to do what it can against the brutish Hog O line, but Arkansas has the nasty attitude on both sides of the ball. Itís Bielema in a bowl game, but his offensive line will overcome that. I'll TAKE ARKANSAS to both win, and cover "The Six!"


LIBERTY BOWL - MONDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2014 - 2:00 PM - ESPN

WEST VIRGINIA (MINUS 3½) VS. TEXAS A & M

- Completely forgotten about after a 5-0 start and a dynamic breakout first half from Kenny Hill, the Aggies have a new starting quarterback and come into the bowl season losing five of the last seven games including close losses to Missouri and LSU. This is still a dangerous offense with a great passing attack, but the defense needs to start playing far better against the run and needs to put Kyle Allen in good positions. Inconsistent, after all the issues in the second half of the season, getting to eight wins wouldnít be a bad way to push forward.

- There was a time midway through the season when West Virginia seemed like something special. It beat Baylor, whacked around Oklahoma State, and battled TCU in a 31-30 loss, but then the wheels came off losing three straight. The Mountaineer passing game has been terrific, and the defense has been the best yet in the Dana Holgorsen era, but a loss would make it four in the last five to close things out. It would still be a good year, but from the end of October on would be a thud.

Rick's Reaction Be extremely disappointed if there are fewer than 700 yards of combined passing offense. West Virginia will want to run a bit on the porous Aggie run defense, but itíll revert back to passing mode as this turns into a shootout. A&Mís offense will rise up and do more in crunch time, even though the Mountaineers will have their moments. I'll TAKE TEXAS A&M to win outright!


RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL - MONDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2014 - 5:30 PM - ESPN

OKLAHOMA (MINUS 3.0) VS. CLEMSON

2014 Russell Athletic Bowl, Monday, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET ESPN - There might not be a flakier big team in college football this year than Oklahoma. Injuries had a lot to do with the problems, but for a team that some thought might be No. 1 after a 4-0 start, itís been a rough ride losing to the three best teams in the Big 12 Ė TCU, Baylor and Kansas State Ė and gagging away the Oklahoma State loss. When Samaje Perine and the offense are working, the team is all but unbeatable unless the defense canít come up with any key stops against the pass. Considering this was one of the biggest stories of the 2013-2014 bowl season, the pressure is on.

- Sort of the forgotten ACC team after starting out 1-2 with losses to Georgia and Florida State, Clemson went on a nice roll despite having injury issues at quarterback before losing to Georgia Tech. The dominant 35-17 win over South Carolina showed what it could do, finishing the year No. 1 in the nation in total defense with one of the best and most aggressive front lines in college football. The Tigers donít commit penalties, and itís great at getting the D off the field in a hurry. With time to let everyone heal up, this should be one of the bowl seasonís best teams.

Rick's Reaction:: It all depends on how healthy everyone is. Will the two starting quarterbacks be able to go? Trevor Knight is iffy at best for Oklahoma, while Clemsonís Deshaun Watson is probably a no-go with a torn ACL Ė yes, it is a question mark. OUís defense is way overdue for a decent performance, but the Tiger D will swarm all over Mr. Perine in the backfield. When I was a freshman at Clemson, we got blown out by Oklahoma in Norman, and then another blowout in Los Angeles against U.S.C. with O.J. Simpson ... things have changes .. too bad that Watson is out ... I'll TAKE CLEMSON to spring an upset!


HOLIDAY BOWL - SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2014 - 8:00 PM - ESPN

NEBRASKA VS. U.S.C. (MINUS 6.0)

- Nebraska is waiting for Mike Riley to take over in a full-time capacity, but in the meantime itís Barney Cotton at the helm to try putting a capper on what would normally be seen as a successful year. The blowout to Wisconsin and loss to Minnesota might have ended the Bo Pelini experience, but the Huskers are still 9-3 and with a chance to go in the record books with ten wins thanks to Ameer Abdullah and a dangerous offense that didnít do enough in the three losses, but rolled against just about everyone else. The defense was far better than it got credit for, but last impressions are lingering Ė the D has to rally after a rocky finishing kick.

- It might not have been a Pac-12 championship season for USC, but it has still been a good first campaign for Steve Sarkisian. However, with the pressure always on, a loss would make for a very long eight months if Sark finishes with five losses. There have been some rocky moments, but before the loss to UCLA, the first three losses were by a six points or fewer and the offense has looked phenomenal at times. Fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, and averaging 35 points a game, at least the Trojans have been fun.

Rick's Reaction: This is the worst possible situation for Sarkisian. USC had better win this game in San Diego and win it big with the local crowd on its side, because anything else will be seen as a dud. Nebraska is a wounded animal right now, but it might come out and play jacked up with a shot to come up with a ten-win season that could and should count for the Bo Pelini era. The Trojans will take advantage of the turmoil, but itíll be a fight. I have U.S.C. winning ... but by less than a touchdown ... so I'll TAKE NEBRASKA to beat the spread!


MILITARY BOWL - SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2014 - 1:00 PM - ESPN

VIRGINIA TECH VS. CINCINNATI (MINUS 3.0)

- As co-American champions, the Bearcats have one of the nationís best passing offenses thanks to the emergence of Gunner Kiel and with weapons all across the attack. The defense has had massive problems Ė especially against the pass Ė but on a seven-game winning streak, everything started to come together as the season went on after a three-game losing streak. There might not be any amazing wins, but the offense can hang around with anyone.

- Known mostly as the team that beat Ohio State, Virginia Tech had a rocky year losing two straight after the win in Columbus and four in five games in the second half of the year, including a disastrous 6-3 gaffe to Wake Forest in overtime. With everything on the line, the Hokies beat Virginia to get bowl eligible. With no real rushing offense, and way too many mistakes with turnovers and penalties, this isnít the normal Virginia Tech team. With all the inconsistencies this year, though, a bowl win might make it more than just the Buckeye beater.

Rick's Reaction: Probably the toughest game to figure out, mainly because Virginia Tech could show up dead and ugly, or powerful and motivated. Cincinnati will wing it around, and Gunner Kiel will have his moments, but the Hokies might be overdue for the right performance on the right stage. I'll TAKE VIRGINIA TECH to "Beat The Spread!"


BOCA RATON BOWL - TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2014 - 6:00 PM - ESPN

NORTHERN ILLINOIS VS. MARSHALL (MINUS 10.0)

- Marshall, the Conference USA champ, is a bit disappointed about what might have been, but it was still an outstanding year with a title and a 12-1 record. Okay, so the schedule was really, really soft, and the epic 67-66 overtime loss to WKU marred a perfect campaign, but with the nationís No. 2 offense, and a defense that had a strong year outside of the shootout against the Hilltoppers, this is a very good, very dangerous team with a chip on its shoulder. This will be a different team if RB Devon Johnsonís shoulder is healthier in a few weeks.

- The Huskies came up with a big early win at Northwestern and overcame losses to Arkansas and Central Michigan to roll out seven straight wins and a MAC championship with a dominant performance over Bowling Green. NIUís offense might not be as devastating as it was in previous seasons, but the ground attack still works well and the defense has been sensational over the second half of the year. A dud in bowl games the last few times out, itís going to take a complete effort Ė and a lot of offense Ė to get 12th win.

Rick's Reaction: "Itís a nice coup for the Boca Raton Bowl in its first year to get two Group of Five superpower champions. There but for the grace of a Boise State loss, either one of these two couldíve ended up in one of the New Yearís Six games. Rakeem Cato and the Herd offense should perk up after a struggle in the C-USA title game, and while NIU has the pop, itís just an okay team Ė itís not last yearís version. I'll TAKE MARSHALL to win, and cover!"


POINSETTIA BOWL - TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2014 - 9:30 PM - ESPN

IDAHO POTATO BOWL - SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2014 - 5:45 PM - ESPN

WESTERN MICHIGAN VS. AIR FORCE (PICK 'EM)

Air Force vs. Western Michigan - The 9-3 Falcons won five of their last six games including a tremendous 27-24 win over Colorado State to close things out. Combined with the win over Boise State, this has been a resurgent season for the program that improved its run defense and found an efficient passing game. However, there were times when things bogged down in losses to Utah State and San Diego State Ė two of the best defenses in the Mountain West.

- Western Michigan was among the worst teams in America in 2013. As it turns out, that was just a warm-up for head coach P.J. Fleck, who came up with a whopper this year thanks to one of the nationís most efficient passing games and getting a huge year from RB Jarvion Franklin. A loss late in the year to Northern Illinois stopped a six-game-winning streak, and an overtime loss to Toledo was costly, but this is a chance to make a statement that this might be the MAC power going into 2015.

First Reaction: Will the high-flying Western Michigan offense be enough to overcome the tight Air Force ground game? The Falcons have managed to beat the two best teams in the Mountain West, but with time to prepare, the Bronco run defense might come up with something interesting. Even so, the Falcons should control the action from the first drive.

Rick's Reaction: I'll TAKE AIR FORCE to win!


Chiefs at Steelers (MINUS 3.0) - 12/21/2014 1:00 PM CBS

Rick's Overwiew The Pittsburgh Steelers are now in control of their own destiny. If Pitt wins this weekend against the Chiefs they will secure a wild card spot, but if they win out by beating both KC and their final regular season contest versus the Bengals then the Steelers can actually win the AFC North. KC is still very much in the hunt as the projected 7th seed in the AFC wild card race for the playoffs and they are coming off of a convincing 31-13 win at home against the struggling Oakland Raiders. After losing to Oakland nearly a month ago it was a different looking Chiefs team this time around as both sides of the ball were played well. KC also snapped a 3-game losing streak and appears to be back on track heading into Pittsburgh. The Steelers have won 6 of their last 8 and several players have publically announced they are in a playoff frame of mind. Steelerís coach Mike Tomlin has recently given the team Mondayís off after wins but that doesnít stop most players from getting into the facility regardless of an off-day. This game and all those remaining are crucial for both of these teamsóit should be a fun game to take in on Sunday. The bottom line is whatever team loses this weekend in Pittsburgh will likely be out of the race or need a lot of help to get back in.

KCís QB, Alex Smith, put together a decent game last week versus the Raiders. Smith was 18 of 30 for 297 yards passing and 2 TDs and no INTs. RB Jamaal Charles took a big hit to the head and left the game where he went through a number of concussion tests (he returned but briefly). RB Nile Davis relieved Charles and pulled in a 70-yard TD reception from Smith and also ran for a TD to add to the Chiefís scoring. KC dominated this game and made that quite evident when they put up 21 points in 4 minutes and 42 seconds in the 3rd quarter alone. KCís offense, defense, and special teams (DeíAnthony Thomas returned a punt 81 yards for a TD) were all onboard and they looked really good (they should especially against Oakland!). If the Chiefs play as well as they did against the Raiders, they should cause Pitt fits. Granted 9-5 Pittsburgh is a different animal entirely than the 2-12 Raiders but even so, KC looked that good.

If Pittsburgh wants to beat the Chiefs this Sunday the best time to put them away is in the earlier parts of the game. Kansas City allows most of their opponentís points in the first three quarters with the 2nd quarter being the most suspect at nearly 7 points per contest. However, the later the game the tougher and tighter the KC defense becomes. The Chiefs are ranked No. 1 in road defense during the 4th quarter this season by allowing only 3.14 points per game. However, the Steelers will challenge the Chiefs impressive D as Big Ben and the boys are ranked No. 1 in 2nd quarter scoring (16.83) and No. 2 in 4th quarter scoring (9.67). Pitt will have to work for every receiving yard as KCís passing D only allows 206 yards passing per road game. The Steelers passing offense averages 367 yards per game at home and will certainly be tested against a stingy KC secondary.

Pitt enters this game ranked No. 3 at home in the NFL for scoring offense at 35 points per game while KCís defense is ranked No. 5 in points allowed on the road at 19.29 per contest. Pitt is the early -3.0 favorite at home. Big Ben will likely look to connect with WR Antonio Brown more as Brown racked up 123 yards passing in the win over Atlanta last week at the Georgia Dome. Roethlisberger also hit LeíVeon Bell for 72 yards respectively. The Steelers have looked like a team on a mission these last couple of weeks and their timing is good especially with the handful of veterans who know what a team can do when they are playing well at the right time. Pitt made similar runs like the one they are on now back 2005 & 2008 both ending in superbowl wins. Betting trends between these two teams have found the total going over in 5 of Pittsburghís last 7 games against Kansas City. Pitt is 4-1SU in their last 5 games at home versus KC. Kansas City is 3-6 SU in its last 9 games on the road. This game has all the makings of a playoff game before the playoff games even beginóboth teams are hungry for post season. The Steelers will put up points but it will be their D who must answer the call and keep Alex Smith and company out of the end zone especially if Smith has time to throw. Jamaal Charles is another key for the Chiefs and he is nursing both a swollen knee and ankle but is expected to compete on Sunday. Pittsburgh is not going to give away too much at home, so the Chiefs need to take advantage of every opportunity whether itís a blown coverage or a deep strike down field against the Steelerís secondary. KCís defense can also play a major role in this game by causing key turnovers and turn them into points. This is a difficult game to pick as both of these teams can score and their defenses are strong. I like Pittsburgh to keep playing at the playoff level they have the last two weeks.

Rick's Bottom Line: Big Ben leads his guys to a hard fought W at home and the Pitt defense runs through KCís O-line and gets to Smith. I'll TAKE THE STEELERS to both win, and cover!

NEW MEXICO BOWL - SATURDAY - DECEMBER 20, 2014 - 2:20 PM - ESPN

UTEP VS. UTAH STATE (MINUS 9.0)

- For all the attention paid to Ohio State having to play its third-string quarterback, Utah State was successful with its fourth-stringer Kent Myers came in and was fantastic over the last few games. The Aggies won five games in a row before getting blown away by Boise State. The run defense was one of the best in the Mountain West over the course of the season, and the team was great in turnover margin, but it needs the offense to work against someone with a pulse Ė there werenít a lot of great wins over the second half of the year.

- UTEP came up with a nice year, even if there werenít any impressive wins. Beating Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion shouldnít really count as victories to write home about, but for a program thatís been in the doldrums for a while, getting a bowl bid and having a shot at an eighth victory is a big deal. Thereís no passing game, and the special teams have occasionally been disastrous, but the defense is okay and the team finds a way to win the turnover battle and take advantage of opportunities. Donít expect fireworks, but the Miners will be competitive.

Rick's Reaction This has the potential to be one of the biggest duds on the lot if the UTEP offense doesnít bring anything special. Utah Stateís defense might have been pounded late by Boise State, but the linebacking corps should dominate from the start. I'll TAKE UTAH STATE to win and cover!


Florida State (MINUS 4.0) vs. Georgia Tech Dec. 6, 8:00, ABC

Rick's Overview: After playing with fire for the past three months, Florida State is now hoping to singe those critics whoíve questioned the team every step of the way. The Seminoles have been one of the oddest teams in recent memory. Overrated. Inconsistent. Unworthy. And yet unbeaten, the only FBS program that has not lost a game. The Noles have been a paradox, playing down to the level of the competition before inevitably being carried to a second-half win by QB Jameis Winston. Itís been a season-long theme thatís been simultaneously maddening and exhilarating at the same time. Forget the style points at this point. If Florida State can simply survive one more time, itís advancing to the College Football Playoff. If, however, living on the edge finally catches up to the Noles, itís going to create a gigantic opening in the top four for Ohio State, TCU or Baylor.

Florida State has been the story in the ACC this season. Georgia Tech, though, has been authoring a compelling tale of its own. An afterthought out of the Coastal Division when the season started, the Yellow Jackets have surprised everyone by winning 10 games, capped by a thrilling overtime upset of Georgia Between the Hedges last Saturday. The Rambliní Wreck has rolled to five impressive wins in a row since dropping back-to-back games to Duke and Carolina in October. And if Tech can snap FSUís 28-game win streak, itíll represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl. Even with a loss, the Jackets might get the Orange Bowl nod as the leagueís runner-up.

From The F.S.U. Sideline: No one does winning better than the garnet and gold. The Seminoles know it and so do the guys in the opposing locker room. Evaluating Florida State transcends the matchups. Florida State almost always has more talent than the opposition. What makes Jimbo Fisherís team so doggone tough to dethrone is that it has the muscle memory for survival, and itís consistently clutch when the outcome hangs in the balance. At some point in Saturday nightís game in Charlotte, the Noles are going to need a critical drive to stem Georgia Techís momentum. And thatís when Winston will pilot the charge, picking apart the Yellow Jacket defense with darts to sure-handed WR Rashad Greene and TE Nick OíLeary. Florida State will not be denied. Not here, at least, and not now against a Tech pass defense thatís No. 11 or lower in completion percentage, yards per attempt, pass efficiency D and yards per game.

From The G.T. Viewpoint: The Yellow Jackets have never been more confident. And the Seminoles have never been more vulnerable. After beating rival Georgia in Athens, Georgia Tech will not be intimidated by Florida State, especially after ingesting this seasonís film. The Seminoles do one thing really well, ride the right arm of Winston. But the Jackets have been winning by myriad different means. Paul Johnsonís triple-option has been run masterfully by sophomore Justin Thomas, and itís not as if the Noles have been impenetrable in the front seven this season. On defense, Ted Roofís kids, like CB D.J. White, FS Jamal Golden and linebackers P.J. Davis and Quayshawn Nealy, have been creating mayhem all year. Remember the number 27 this week; thatís Techís ACC-high number of takeaways as well as FSUís ACC-high number of turnovers. If the Yellow Jackets are swarming, Winston has shown on numerous occasions this fall that heíll make poor decisions with the ball.

Rick's "Keep Your Eye On Department: Georgia Tech is going to be without one of its sneaky-good offensive weapons, WR DeAndre Smelter, who tore his ACL last week. Itís a tough loss for an offense that likes to zing defenses that dare Thomas to beat them over the top. Without Smelterís 35 receptions for 715 yards and seven touchdowns, the Yellow Jackets are a little less scary on offense, unless 6-5 senior Darren Waller can pick up more of the slack. Tech is going to grind out yards with physical B-backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days, but the star on the ground will be Florida State rookie Dalvin Cook. The true freshman out of Miami has been a revelation in Tallahassee, surpassing Karlos Williams in the pecking order. Cook has been to the Noles what Michael Dyer was to Auburn in 2010, navigating the field with the poise and the vision of an upperclassman. Heís given a jolt to a running game that desperately needed it, and will be a key factor once again versus a Yellow Jacket front seven that can be moved off the ball by the veteran Seminole O-line. No one in America is converting third downs at a higher rate than Georgia Tech, 57.4%, and thatís a problem for the Florida State D, which could be on the field a lot Saturday night. Thomas has been so good at making the right decisions this season, particularly when the Yellow Jackets are looking to extend a drive. He doesnít make many mistakes, mental or otherwise, and at 231 pounds and 218 pounds, respectively, Days and Laskey are always moving forward. The Seminoles have got to win on first and second downs, even if it means selling out to create traffic jams near the line of scrimmage. Again, the absence of Smelter will allow the Florida State defenders to be a little more fearless than usual this weekend. Florida State boasts great athletes on defense. But will those athletes have the patience to contend with Thomas and the nuances of the triple-option? If the Seminoles overrun plays too often, Thomas and his cadre of backs will burn them for chunk yards. Itís incumbent upon the Nolesí better open field tacklers, such as safeties Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews and linebackers Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup to resist the temptation to fly upfield and lose track of whoís handling the ball.

Rick's Bottom Line: Georgia Tech is going to hang around until the final whistle. Florida State will break the hearts of the Yellow Jacketsóand countless othersówith yet another edge-of-the-seat victory in the waning moments. Why in the world should this weekís ACC Championship Game be any different than the Nolesí entire regular season? Tech can beat Florida State, because Johnson has his kids playing extremely well, and because the Seminoles allow just about everyone to be within reach into the third quarter and beyond. But the Nolesí knack for flipping the right switch has become legendary and borderline impossible to counteract. They are clutch, theyíve been here before and they do not flinch in the face of adversity. Florida State will be against the ropesóagain. I'm actually using my Alma Mater - Clemson as the "measuring board" ... The Tigers took F.S.U. into overtime before losing ... and they got the crap kicked out of themselves by Georgia Tech ... I'll TAKE GEORGIA TECH to at least .. beat the spread!


Eagles at Packers (MINUS 5.0) - Nov. 16, 4:25, FOX

Rick's Overview: Each NFL week usually features a marquee game or two and one such matchup from week 11 has the Philadelphia Eagles traveling to Green Bay to take on the Packers. The Eagles sit atop the NFC East but need to keep winning to stay ahead of the Cowboys while the Packers are a game behind the Lions in the NFC North. Considering Green Bay would be out of the playoffs if they started today, this one probably means a little more to the Pack. The winner this week not only improves their playoff standing but will own the tiebreaker edge over the other and that could play a big role at seasonís end. The online betting sites started the week with Green Bay as five-point favorites but the line has moved to six by Wednesday and back to 5.0 at some off-shore books on Thursday. The over/under is set at 54 and a half. The Eagles have struggled against better opponents of late, going 4-12-1 against the spread in their last 17 games against teams with a winning record and they are just 1-4 ATS in their games following a Monday Night appearance. Green Bay is 5-1 ATS in their last six overall and 4-0-1 ATS in the last five games at Lambeau. The favorite has a 5-2 ATS record in the seven games between these teams.

Issue number one for the Eagles is maintaining their offensive production without starting QB Nick Foles. Foles is likely out for the remainder of the year, leaving Mark Sanchez to lead the leagueís 5th best offense in terms of yards gained and the Eagles enter the week 4th in scoring, averaging 31 points per game. Sanchez has played well, throwing for 534 yards and four touchdowns in a little more than one game. The offense seems to be the same as with Foles and Sanchez has even attempted seven rushes so it appears that the full Chip Kelly playbook is in use. We know what kind of weapon the Eagles have in Jeremy Maclin but Jordan Matthews has chemistry with Sanchez from working together on the second team and it showed with a 7-138-2 performance last week. Green Bay is solid against the pass, ranking ninth in yards allowed and intercepting 12 passes but they are just 30thagainst the run and LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles will give them problems in the pass game.

Aaron Rodgers is the gold-standard of quarterbacking right now and enters the game with 25 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He has found Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb for 18 of those touchdowns and that duo has simply been unstoppable in combining for 1,539 yards already. Eddie Lacy should find some room to run against the 19th best rush defense and the Eagles fall to 21st in total yards allowed. There seems little doubt that the Packers will move the ball and score but Philadelphia has had the X-factor all year whether it be defensive or special teams touchdowns.

This is a great contest on paper with the Eagles 6th and the Packers 7th in the Sagarin rankings and both clubs are dealing with very few injuries. There are plenty of playmakers on the field for both sides so this should come down to who can get that key stop or turn the other team over. Green Bay has nine different players with at least one interception and the defensive scheme seems to be changing with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers wearing multiple hats. Connor Barwin leads the Eagles with 10.5 sacks and gets to go against a Packer offensive line that hasnít performed well at any point this year. Philadelphia leads the league with four defensive touchdowns.

Rick's Bottom Line: Assuming Rodgers and his receivers get their production is a good bet and the Eagles will have to stay close to prevent Green Bay from zeroing in on Sanchez. McCoy should see more success than his current 3.7 yards per carry average and both he and Sproles should give the Packer linebackers fits in coverage. Watch for Zach Ertz and/or Brent Celek to have some impact in this game as Sanchez likes to work inside the numbers. A third option of Andrew Quarless or Davante Adams should emerge if the Eagles can keep either Cobb or Nelson locked down but make no mistake, both teams will get their points this week. The Packers are 4-0 at home this year and pass the ďeye-testĒ as one of the best teams in football regardless of location. Too much Rodgers will ultimately send the Eagles packing with a loss as Sanchez canít be expected to put up the kind of numbers it will take to keep up. Philly keeps it close as the speedy running backs frustrate the Packers early but a late TD and a little Lacy clockwork put this one to bed. I'll TAKE GREEN BAY to both win and cover!


Eagles at Cardinals (MINUS 2.5) - Oct. 26, 4:05 PM FOX

Rick' Overview: Two NFC teams sitting at 5-1 and just a game back of the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the conference will battle it out on Sunday, when the Philadelphia Eagles travel West to the dry desert heat of University of Phoenix Stadium in a late afternoon game against the Arizona Cardinals on Fox. Despite a host of injuries at quarterback, head coach Bruce Arians has once again pulled the strings like a master in getting the Cardinals to 5-1 thus far. Last week the Cards went on the road and took care of a game they should have won, which is sometimes the hardest to win, beating Oakland by a score of 24-13. Carson Palmer returned to throw two touchdowns and for 253 yards for the Cards, who after seven weeks of play currently have the rest of the ultra-tough NFC West division looking up at them in first place. Just like the Cardinals, the Eagles will enter the contest on Sunday riding a modest two-game win streak, including an impressive, 27-0, dismantling of the rival New York Giants the week before last weekendís bye week. With over a week to put together a game plan, it should be interesting to see how wunder-coach Chip Kelly decides to attack an Arizona defense that is tough to attack at home. With the similarities of how both teams have gotten to 5-1 and where they are at this point in the season, it should be no surprise that the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are letting bettors set this betting line. With the number set just below the key number of 3, almost every sportsbook out there in cyberspace opened this game with Arizona as 2.5-point favorites. Some early sharp money moved it up to Eagles minus -3 at a few books, but despite a slight presence of early public money on the visiting Eagles, the number remains minus -2.5 at most books currently.

As mentioned earlier, the Cards have welcomed Palmer back at QB and back to running the show. Even with five wins, the Cards offense has yet to click this season as their 317.8 yards per game average is 28th in the NFL and has to be among the lowest ever for a team in first place. Theyíll face a Eagles defense that has its warts (allowing 381 ypg Ė 24th), but one that knows how to stiffen and turn up the dial in the red zone since they are 13th in scoring defense at 22 points per game. What could be fun to watch for Philly fans is the Eagles on offense this Sunday. Against an Arizona defense that is tops in the NFL in run defense (allow 72.5 ypg), but 31st in pass defense (285 ypg), its almost too easy to be tricky in the Eagles attack if youíre Kelly this week. The Eagles and QB Nick Foles are already 7th in the NFL throwing the ball each week (262 ypg), so if the Eagles start running the ball and punting three-and-out every series, you know the fix is in. Philly snapped a three-game Arizona win streak in this head-to-head series between these two NFC squads. The Eagle prevailed 24-21 at home at the Linc last year, but prior to that the Cardinals had won three straight in the series and three of the last four played in Arizona (dating back to the 2001 season). The Cardinals, however, have been a way, way, way better bet over the years in this series, going 4-0 ATS in the last four and 5-1 ATS in the last six. The over may also be a solid betting trend play, since the over is 7-3 in the last 10 games played in Arizona, and is 13-6 in the last 19 meetings in the series overall. The over is also 8-3 in the Eagles last 11 road games.

Rick's Bottom Line Iím pretty sure the line for this game has yet to move in both directions before it actually kicks off on Sunday. That said, Iíd lean toward the Cardinals, especially if it stays under 3 or crawls closer to a pick emí. I'll TAKE THE CARDINALS to both win and cover ... and maybe ... a minor wager on THE OVER (46.0) as well!


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EMAIL Rick ... rneedham1@yahoo.com