January 11, 2016 (2:08 PM ET)
There is one pick tonight. It was released 10 days ago on the first day of the new year.
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Take Clemson at +7 spread against Alabama for 3% of the bankroll.
There is no question that the Alabama Crimson Tide is a team that is defense oriented. They have held their opponents to an average of just 13.4 points per game and 70.8 rushing yards per game, allowing just six rushing TDs and 13 passing TDs all season long. They completely rolled through the Michigan State Spartans in the Semi-Finals, holding the Spartans scoreless for the first time in 196 games enroute to their 38-0 blowout win. That destruction of the supposed number 4 ranked team in the country no doubt has no doubt given the appearance that Alabama is the very best team in the country and it also appears that the oddsmakers agree since they have instilled the Tide as a full touchdown favorite against the #1 ranked and unbeaten Clemson team.
The Clemson Tigers are a team that has defied all of the naysayers this season and continues to impress, despite there still being many non-believers. This is a team that has completely bought into the philosophy of their head coach, Dabo Swinney, and at the moment are playing with a heavy chip on their shoulders! While many have expected the Tigers to stumble at some point this season, they have been nearly flawless. The Tigers are among the best in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 38.5 points per game as well as scoring defense, allowing just 20.2 points per game on average. While their defeat of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Semi-Finals was not as impressive as Alabama's shutout, it was still impressive in its own right. Oklahoma had averaged 300 yards rushing per game since losing to Texas on Oct 11th and the Clemson defense the Sooners to just 67 yards rushing and an average of 2.0 yards per carry. They also intercepted Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield twice in that contest to seal the win.
The Clemson offense is no doubt run through their own Heisman finalist, Deshaun Watson. Watson has passed for 3512 yards with 31 TDs while also rushing for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. We believe Watson will be the key to this matchup for the Tigers as is exactly the type of quarterback who gives the Tide problems. The Clemson sophomore has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in five of his past six games and is averaging 107.7 rush yards per game and 5.92 yards per carry during that span. Of the past six quarterbacks who have managed to defeat the Crimson Tide, (Chad Kelly, Cardale Jones, Bo Wallace, Trevor Knight, Nick Marshall and Johnny Manziel) only one (Wallace) averaged fewer than 4 yards a carry in that season. Watson poses not only a run threat but also a deep passing threat, which is an area where Alabama has been vulnerable at times in the past. In Clemson's victory against Oklahoma in the Semi-Finals, Watson contributed 11.1 more points to his scoring margin against the Sooners than an average quarterback would with the same number of plays. That is the most by a quarterback in a BCS title game or playoff game since Texas' Vince Young against USC in 2006!
While Watson is certainly a dynamic players and the biggest threat to the Tide’s defense, Alabama also needs to be wary of Clemson’s 1,300+ yard rusher Wayne Gallman. Gallman is a big, but shifty back who has been able to gash opposing defenses, simply because of the threat of Watson pulling the ball and running it himself. This one-two punch by Clemson has ultimately been the reason they have been able to average over 540 yards per offense this season. While it is unlikely that they will reach that number against a defense such as the Tide, the threat of both Gallman and Watson on the ground should be able to give Saban’s defense some struggles. If we look back to earlier in the season to what Ole Miss was able to do to the Tide out in Tuscaloosa, we believe the Tigers could potentially have the same amount of success. That matchup was decided by the Rebels ability to create turnovers. If The Tigers can do the same and limit their own, they should have a great chance to upend the Tide and win the National Championship.
We expect that this will be a back and forth affair with each team going through a ‘feeling out’ process in the early going, with both defenses coming up with big stops. This is the type of matchup that could be decided by explosive plays in order to move the ball, followed up by both coaches relying on their kickers in order to put points on the board. It is well document that Nick Saban has had issues relying on his kicking game (and for good reason), if the game boils down to which field goal kicker is most reliable; that advantage has to side with the Tigers. This should be one of the more entertaining national title games in recent years, but at the end of the day we believe this Clemson Tigers team is a 'team of destiny' and have the ability to beat the Tide in this contest for their first National Championship since 1981. Even if the Tigers fall short however, Watson and company should be able to do enough offensively to keep this contest competitive and stay within a single score. The generous 7 points they are being spotted could prove to be very valuable in this contest.
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