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January 9, 2016 (10:52 AM ET)

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There are 2 college basketball and 2 NFL selections today! The two NFL picks were released back on Thursday.
 

1) Take Florida at -3.5 spread against LSU for 3% of the bankroll.

There is no doubt that this is a transition year for the Florida Gators as the players are trying to adapt to the new style and philosophies of head coach Mike White. It was known that Florida would struggle in the first season under a new head coach, but that does not mean that this is not a talented team, they simply have not put it all together as of yet.

Meanwhile the LSU Tigers came into this season brimming with confidence with the announcement that freshman sensation Ben Simmons had committed to LSU. Simmons is no doubt a talented player, however all of the hype and media attention surrounding this one player has, in our opinion, overvalued the Tigers this season. While they are a quality team, at just 9-6 on the season, this could be considered a somewhat disappointing start to the year.

That being said, the Tigers did manage to capture their 'Marquee' win this season in their last contest as they managed to defeat the highly touted and always tough Kentucky Wildcats. Anytime a team pulls off a win over John Calipari's Wildcats it's a big deal. Kentucky is looked at as the powerhouse of the country; the benchmark that every other team looks up to and to defeat that type of "giant" is cause for celebration. While that was an impressive win, that allows opens up the door for a potential big-time letdown in this contest, which is exactly what we believe will happen. LSU is still a young team in the SEC and we don't believe they have the type of maturity needed to settle down and re-focus after a victory like that. Given the Gators struggles this season, it would be easy for the Tigers to come into this contest overconfident and looking past Florida.

'The Swamp' is no easy place for opposing teams to play. Despite their struggles, Florida has been solid at home this season with a 6-1 overall record in front of their home fans and does hold a 14 point win over a very talented Georgia Bulldog team in this arena. Meanwhile, LSU has struggled away from Death Valley this year going just 1-2 overall in true road games this season. Florida took a loss in their last contest as they feel 83-69 on the road against Tennessee. They also have back to back conference road contests coming up after this matchup so a victory here over LSU is almost needed prior to hitting the highway. 

We expect LSU to come into this contest just a bit flat after their big win over the Wildcats as they succumb to the dreaded "let-down" spot and Florida picks up a much needed win and cover prior to heading out on the road.
 

2) Take Texas A&M at -4.5 spread against Tennessee for 3% of the bankroll.

Despite being ranked 21st in the nation and on a 5 game winning streak, we believe the Texas A&M Aggies are still a bit underrated in a majority of the public's eyes as they are a veteran team that is extremely balanced on both sides of the ball. They play a fundamentally sound game that consists of taking high percentage shots, playing solid defense and they are extremely aggressive on the glass. They come into this contest ranked 67th in the country in scoring offense, averaging 79.2 points per game on 47% shooting. Defensively, they have been even better, ranking 32nd in the nation holding teams to just an average of 64 points per game and under 40% shooting from the floor!

The Aggies are led by SMU transfer, Jalen Jones. Jones is a big guard who has been a nightmare matchup for many opposing defenses. He has an extremely high basketball IQ and is making wise decisions with the basketball. He is an extremely efficient shooter, hitting 47% of his shots from the perimeter and 43% from 3-point range. He could pose a big matchup problem for Tennessee in this contest.

What we do find somewhat interesting in this contest is the fact that while the betting public hasn't necessarily completely bought into the potential of this Aggies team, the oddsmakers seeming have. Despite the Tennessee Volunteers being a perfect 8-0 at home this season, they have listed the Aggies as what could be considered a substantial road favorite. The reason for this is simple. The Volunteers, while impressive on the offensive end of the court, have struggled mightily with defense. They are tied for 250th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing their opponents to put up an average of 75 points per contest this season. They are allowing teams to shoot over 40% from the field this season! They also have been somewhat undisciplined in their one-on-one defending as they have allowed teams to get to the charity stripe nearly 21 times per game. Against a team who has been as efficient with the basketball as the Aggies have been; this is simply a recipe for disaster for Tennessee.

The Aggies defense will likely be the difference in this contest. While Tennessee will likely keep things competitive in the early going, once the Aggies get a feel for what the Volunteers are trying to do offensively, their defense should step up and limit their scoring opportunities. These two teams met here last season and it was the Aggies who came away with a 6 point victory in Rockytop. This season's Aggies squad is arguably much better than a season ago and should once again come away with the win and cover in this matchup.
 

3) Take Cincinnati Bengals at +3 spread against Pittsburgh Steelers for 3% of the bankroll.

The Steelers are undoubtedly one of the most popular franchises and the fact that they have arguably the most high-powered and flashy offense in NFL this season has made them a darling for the betting public! The average fan does not appreciate solid defense as much as they do 77-yard touchdowns and that skews their perception about what defines a 'solid' team. This matchup is a good example of where sharps and casual bettors differ in their opinion. For us, Cincinnati is simply the better team. For the average betting Joe, it's Pittsburgh.

Cincy not only has the much better defense but is a lot more balanced offensively. The Steelers on the other hand have explosive receivers like Antonio Brown in what is an often pass-heavy offense. As if missing arguably the best RB in the league in Le'Veon Bell was not bad enough, Mike Tomlin had found a great replacement for him in the veteran DeAngelo Williams who was having an incredible year! Williams however injured himself last Sunday and will not take the field today. His absence should not be underestimated but is by many as he often did not get the recognition he deserves. The media continues to focus on Big Ben and his skillful receivers neglecting the fact that Williams was not only their main rushing threat (907 yards and 11 TDs) but was also good at catching passes and moving the chains (367 yards)! His production can not be replaced by Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint who've both had very limited carries this season. The fact that the former Carolina Panther running-back is missing tonight will make this Steelers offense even more pass-heavy and that is when mistakes are made and interceptions happen. Especially against a Bengal secondary that ranks best in the NFL in defending 13+ yard passes! The Steelers were just 4-4 on the road this season while the Bengals were 5-1 against division opponents.

AJ McCarron will again be the QB for Marvin Lewis' side today and given that he's started the last 4 games and is rapidly growing in confidence, we believe this gives them a better chance of success than if Andy Dalton was suddenly starting again anyway. Dalton is an improved quarterback compared to previous years and was having a fine season but he would not have been sharp after missing the final 4 games of the season and has a history of making costly errors against the Steelers including the last time these two teams met when he threw a pick-6 from the red zone and injured his thumb trying to tackle. He would likely not have been as sharp after the extended layoff and may have been in his head recalling previous memories of failure against this division rival. The drop-off from Dalton not starting at QB for Cincinnati and McCarron once again getting the start is therefore not a big factor where as the Steelers have no real replacements for Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams in the backfield.

Unlike the injury-depleted Pittsburgh squad, the Bengals have one of the best running-back tandems in the league! The 23-year old bruising RB Jeremy Hill is great at short-yardage situations and has 12 TD's on the season while Gio Bernard is quick and elusive and provides that necessary burst of acceleration! Hue Jackson has done a stellar job with this offense and has playmakers at his disposal in every position. Whether he decides to allow McCarron to connect with the likes of AJ Green for a pass over the top, or to hand it off to one of his two capable backs, this Bengals offense is unpredictable and a tough one to contain. They are much more balanced than their opponents today and that could well be the difference in this game. Tight-end Tyler Eifert had an NFL-leading 13 touchdown receptions and has been a primary target in the red zone. Against a Pittsburgh defense that is one of the weakest among teams in the playoffs, look for Cincy to take advantage.

The Bengals defense features stars all over the field. From sack monsters like Geno Atkins, Peko and Carlos Dunlap to linebackers Rey Maualuga and AJ Hawk all the way to the secondary where cornerbacks Adam 'Pac-Man' Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick have formed an excellent team with free safety Reggie Nelson, this is a stout group to break down. That is evident by the fact that they've allowed just 279 points this season which is the fewest in the AFC! They have allowed an average of just 17.4 points per game and will enjoy home field advantage tonight. It's worth knowing that the Bengals are 13-4 ATS (against-the-spread) as underdogs over the last 3 seasons! This is what we call a 'false favorite' situation as we believe Cincinnati is the better overall team and should advance to the next round. The fact that we get a field goal (3 points) as added bonus is very precious given that funny things can sometimes happen at the end of games. If the referees don't decide to bail out the Steelers with phantom 'pass-interference' flags, the more fundamentally sound team will come out on top.
 

4) Take Kansas City Chiefs at -3 spread against Houston Texans for 3% of the bankroll.

A rematch of the regular-season opener between the Chiefs and Texans will start the AFC playoffs in the Wild Card round. Similar to the first meeting, the Chiefs will travel to Texas as small road favorites and some will recall that Kansas City won that game, 27-20 in Texas back in Week 1. These two teams took similar paths in getting here in the sense that they rely primarily on their stout defense and got hot in the second half of the season. At the end of the day however, the Chiefs are just a bit better in every facet of the game and rightfully installed as favorites.

Since losing 5 straight earlier this season, the Kansas City made history by making the playoffs after a rough 1-5 start and have been the hottest team in the NFL since then! Not only have they managed to put together an impressive 10 game win streak, but they have also been great at covering the number when it was a reasonable amount of points, having gone 7-3 ATS during that span. Although they are the Wildcard contender in this matchup against the AFC South champs, this is actually a better situation for Kansas City. They are the team that is carrying the most momentum into this contest. Often times, the top two seeds that receive the coveted "bye week” in the playoffs, have been rusty and win but don't cover. The Chiefs are red hot coming into this contest and having played last week, they are in the ideal position to keep the momentum going. We believe they will benefit from not having won their division and getting a bye week (unlike Broncos) because momentum does not like layoffs and would likely not carry over as much if they didn't play this week. The Texans have momentum of their own but not as much.

The Chiefs are a potential dark horse in these playoffs and could pose problems for each and every team they face. They are a fundamentally sound football team that makes very few errors. Despite having lost Jamaal Charles earlier this season, they still boast a solid rushing attack with both Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware performing well in the backfield. They also have a QB in Alex Smith who rarely makes mistakes and has taken a few more risks this season. Smith is a quarterback that never seems to quite get the recognition that he deserves. He has had an exceptional season this year, throwing for 3,486 yards with 20 TDs and just 7 interceptions. He also has 498 rushing yards and two scores on the ground, punishing teams with his legs and moving the chains when a gap opens up. Smith has proven to be able to make the plays when needed and capitalized on what the defense gives him. On the other side, Brian Hoyer has had his arguably best season but he has missed several games due to injuries and concussion while Smith has taken part in every single game and is even more established in the Chiefs system having been their QB for a few years now.

Besides their play on offense, the focal point of this Kansas City team has been their stellar defense. They are an elite level defense that has been extremely stingy over the last 10 games. In that span, they have held their opponents to an average of just 12.8 points per game! As if their defense wasn't good enough, they should receive another boost for this matchup when star linebacker Justin Houston, who has missed the final five games due to a knee injury, is expected to play in this contest. Houston returned to practice last week and should be available this Saturday. His combination with Tamba Hali will make Hoyer uncomfortable in the pocket especially given that the Texans lost star offensive tackle, Duane Brown to a season-ending injury last Sunday! They also have a ball hawking defender in the secondary in Marcus Peters. Peters has been all over the field this season and has 8 interceptions on the season! Last season, the Chiefs had just 6 interceptions all season long; this year they have 22 as a team! Finally Eric Berry is a pro-bowl safety this season and has been sensational at the back.

There is a reason why the oddsmakers have listed Kansas City as FG favorites on the! They've won plenty of road games this season and this should be another one. The Texans have had issues with consistency nearly everywhere on the offensive side of the ball, from their early shuffling at the quarterback position, to Alfred Blue struggling to produce on the ground except in rare situations like last week. The Chiefs have played the tougher competition this season and have thrived, while the Texans were somewhat fortunate that the Indianapolis Colts has a disastrous season in an extremely poor division. It's also worth mentioning that Houston's main receivers, DeAndre Hopkins, Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington were all limited in practice this week. We expect all 3 to take the field but they are banged up and nursing different injuries. On the other side of the ball, former #1 pick, Jadeveon Clowney is questionable for this contest with a foot injury and did not practice on Friday! Kansas City has the healthier squad coming into this crucial clash and that is yet another advantage for them.

In recent weeks we have seen the Chiefs lay spreads of a touchdown or more and we wisely stayed away as Andy Reid simply cares about winning games and not covering inflated numbers. Now we get them laying only a field goal and that has value. This should be an entertaining contest to open Wildcard weekend and there's no doubt that Chiefs vs. Patriots would provide the NFL and its fans a more intriguing matchup than Texans vs. Patriots which was a regular season matchup just a few weeks ago and quite a one-sided affair for the most part. Kansas City should advance to the next round and at this short spread, they should cover barring a meaningless backdoor cover when a team is up by 9 and gives up a meaningless TD to win by 2!




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