December 28, 2015 (3:05 PM ET)
There are 3 picks tonight including an NFL one where we are 35-22 on the season with a 61.4% record!
In addition, an afternoon bowl pick has been released a day in advance for tomorrow.
1) Take Cincinnati Bengals at +4 spread against Denver Broncos for 3% of the bankroll.
The Bengals continue to be an undervalued commodity. They are 11-2-1 ATS (against-the-spread) this season meaning they have been very kind to their backers! They've fallen short of the cover only twice this season and are set to improve that mark in our opinion. That's because this is a 50-50 game that can go either way and it wouldn't surprise us if it was decided by a late field goal. If that is the case, one of these two teams is gonna win it by 1-3 points which would result in a winning ticket for us! Marvin Lewis' Cincinatti squad has been under-estimated all season long but continuously proven doubters wrong. This could be another such situation as they enjoy several advantages in this contest.
The Bengals have already clinched a playoff spot but can officially clinch the AFC North division with a win tonight. More importantly, they can secure a 1st round bye which would allow QB Andy Dalton an extra week of rest as he recovers from injury! If they lose on the other hand, they will be overtaken by these same Broncos for that all-important 2nd seed in the conference and will have to play a Wild Card team! There is plenty of incentives for them to go out and compete against a direct AFC rival tonight and we believe they have a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset. Even if they fall short however, this should be a close game where the 4 points are extremely precious and may well come into play.
It should be noted that Cincinnati is a perfect 7-0 ATS on the road this season! That means there has not been a single road game that this tenacious squad has failed to either win, or at least stay competitive and cover the number. Both teams will be playing with backup quarterbacks and that means the running game might decide the outcome of this game. If that is the case, there's perhaps not a better RB tandem than the combination of Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Bernard is quick, elusive and more than capable of catching passes while Hill is a bruising back perfect for short-yardage situations and that is confirmed by the fact that he has 10 rushing TDs on the season! He dominated for over 100 yards and two scores against these Broncos in the last meeting between the two and may pose problems for them again tonight. CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are good RB's as well but Anderson didnt look right in the last game after sitting out the prior one with an injury and Hillman has shown both flashes of briliance and what can only be classified as 'disappearing acts'. Bernard and Hill are a tough combo to deal with and if they can have some success running the ball in the earlygoings, it will open up the passing lanes for AJ McCarron who starred in plenty of high-pressure games with the media spot-light on him as a former Alabama QB.
Something that not many realize is that the Bangals have had the stingiest defense in the entire NFL this year! So while the media spent much of its time praising the Bronco defense because they have 5 defensive TDs on the year and create turnovers, it is Cincinnati's stop-unit that has yielded a league-low 17.4 points per game! Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga, Adam 'Pac-Man' Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and the rest of the crew have been outstanding at both stopping the run, pressuring the QB and sacking them and coming up with their fair share of well-timed turnovers! Denver has a truly stout defense as well but they have gotten far more publicity and credit than Cincy this season when that shouldn't be the case.
Brock Osweiler and his offense have been shutout in the second half of 2 of the previous 3 games! They start out hot but have trouble closing out games and the pressure is building on him now that Peyton Manning is closer to returning from injury and now that the Kansas City Chiefs are just a half game behind the Broncos! Denver has long been a public darling as they are one of the best supported teams in the country. That is what is driving this inflated spread. This is a game that can go either way and should be closely contested throughout. The Bengals are live underdogs and should not be spotted 4 points tonight. The betting public is all over the Broncos and coming off an ugly Sunday where none of their 'square' choices paid off, they are chasing and have put their eggs in one basket with Denver but unless they get lucky with a few questionable 'pass interference' flags late in the game, we don't see them covering this number. This resillient Cincy team reslishes being underdogs and is 12-4 ATS in that role over the last 3 seasons having won 11 of those games straight up! Back them in a game where all the pressure is on the home side and yet the talent difference is not there.
2) Take Central Michigan at +6 spread against Minnesota for 3% of the bankroll.
The Central Michigan Chippewas may play in a smaller conference than their opponents, but we believe they have all of the advantages in this contest to pull off the outright upset. Central Michigan played against a brutally difficult schedule this season, especially in the early part of the year. They opened their season against Oklahoma State and had to play Michigan State in their third game of the year. The fact that they played two College Playoff contending teams and managed to stay competitive in both, shows a lot about how underrated this team has been this season. They come into this Bowl Game with a ton of momentum having won 6 of their last 8 games to end the regular season.
For Minnesota, it appeared that their season was over after their regular season finale against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Gophers needed that win to ensure their invitation to a Bowl Game and wound up coming up on the losing end of that contest. The Gophers' 5-7 record did not qualify them for a bowl trip, however, with the addition of two new bowls this season, there were not enough six-win teams to fill the postseason slate. The NCAA ruled that five-win teams would be admitted to the postseason based on Academic Progress Rate, and Minnesota ranked second among the five-win programs so they were elected to the Quick Lane Bowl. While many may look at this as a sign of "second-life" we actually believe this will have a negative impact on the preparation of the players. Many had already come to terms with their season ending and now to have to get mentally focused for one more game against an opponent who will no doubt be motivated is not an ideal situation and may affect how they play on the field.
The Golden Gophers were a team that rested their hats on their defense this season, coming in ranked at the 15th best pass defense in the country, allowing just an average of 182 yards per game. With so many players already being out of the "game mode" mentality, it will be interesting to see if that has a negative effect on their defense that will surely be tested in this contest. On the offensive end is where they truly struggled, ranking 100th in the nation in scoring average. Minnesota took a big step back this season running the ball as their ground game ranks just 101st in the nation in rushing average. QB Mitch Leidner also had his ups and down and lacked any type of consistency throwing for 2478 yards and 13 TDs to 10 interceptions.
The Chippewa's defense could be in for a big performance against an inconsistent Minnesota offense as they come in 33rd in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just an average of 22.1 points per game. The offense has been where this team has truly shined however as they have a veteran QB at the helm that is one of the best that no one is really talking about. Cooper Rush had an extremely strong season this year passing for 3703 yards and 25 touchdowns. He has thrown for 300 or more yards in 6 of his last 7 contests including 349 & 391 in his final two games and has only been held to under (the Minnesota average) of 182 yards just once this season.
This game is also being played at Ford Field, which is approx. 150 miles from where Central Michigan calls home. Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego knows a thing or two about this field having been an assistant with the Lions last season. He has publicly stated how thrilled he was to be playing a Bowl Game so close to home and it has been reported that Central Michigan had sold out their allotment of tickets within hours of the venue being announced. This will essentially be a home game for the Chippewas in this one and there is no question that they will have the majority support from the crowd which should allow them to stay motivated in this contest.
This is also an opportunity for the Chippewas to once again prove their mettle against a team from a Power 5 conference. They are battle tested and have proven their ability on defense to keep things close against the likes of Oklahoma State and Michigan St already this season and going against what should be considered the lower-tier of the Big 10 in Minnesota, the Chipps should likely contend for the outright victory. We believe both defenses will come to play in this contest which means that points could come at a premium. If that is indeed the case, the 2 field goal cushion is likely to have value, especially with what some would classify as the 'home' team.
3) Take Navy at -3 spread against Pittsburgh for 3% of the bankroll.
The Pittsburgh Panthers have had a successful season under former Michigan State defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi's first season at the helm compiling an 8-4 overall record. Narduzzi has clearly brought his defensive philosophy over to the Panthers and it has paid dividends for him this year, however, there is no question that this team has a lot more to learn under his regime. Despite being solid against the run, they still ranked 49th in the country in overall defense, giving up an average of nearly 24.6 points per game.
While their defense has been their strong suit, their offense has at times left a lot to be desired. The loss of star running back James Conner really hurt this team offensively and since then they have managed to limp along on the offensive end. Qadree Ollison was a capable replacement and rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. Quarterback Nathan Peterman, while not explosive with his arm or with his feet, did a solid job under center throwing for 2150 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. Peterman is the definition of a "game manager" and is not a player that will typically win, or lose a game for his team. Pittsburgh is a team that typically needs their defense to keep game low scoring and has been able to grind out wins because their offense has made the plays when needed. Against high scoring and explosive offenses, Pittsburgh has struggled and we believe that will be the case in this contest.
The Navy Midshipmen's first season is the AAC was an extremely successful one as they managed to go 7-1 in conference play and 10-2 overall on the season. They looked unstoppable at time this season with their triple option style rushing attack as they ranked 3rd in the country in rushing average. They also ranked 24th in the nation in scoring offense as they average 36.2 points per game this season. A huge reason for the Midshipmen's offensive success was due in part to the play of Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds has had a tremendous career at Navy, being the most prominent Navy signal caller since Roger Staubach. He has rushed for 1229 yards and 21 TDs this season and is the FBS leader for rushing touchdowns in a career, eclipsing Monte Ball's record earlier this season. Reynolds has also shown vast improvement in his arm as a QB as well throwing for 1,077 yards and 7 touchdowns with just 1 interception all season long. Navy doesn't throw the ball often, but when they do it is typically for big plays.
As good as their offense had been, they have an extremely respectable defense as well which ranks 26th in the country in points allow and should have no issue slowing down what has been a rather "vanilla" offense for Pittsburgh this season. The Panthers also don't see a lot of triple-option style offenses throughout the season, (with the exception of Georgia Tech, who was a completely mess this year), so while they may have success in the early going, slowing down the rush, it is only a matter of time before the Navy ground attack eventually softens up and tires out the Panther's defense.
It's important to note that this is a home game for the Midshipmen; in what will be Keenan Reynolds very last game suiting up for and playing on this field. He has had a tremendous career at Navy and we don't expect him or his team to lose in front of all of the service members who will undoubtedly be present to pay homage to what has been an extremely successful career. Reynolds will go out on a high note which should allow his team to cover this small number.
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