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January 17, 2016 (11:03 AM ET)

There are two picks today.

1) Take Denver Broncos at -7 spread against Pittsburgh Steelers for 3% of the bankroll.

The Broncos may not have the edge at the quarterback position today but they should enjoy an advantage at all other facets of the game! And with Ben Roethlisberger banged up and carrying an injury, the Steelers may not even have the better QB in this contest. Unlike 'Big Ben', Manning doesn't have to do a whole lot to help his team win this game. That's because he's backed up by a rock solid defense that ranks #1 in 4 major NFL categories and is a top 5 defense in the other ones. Denver has allowed the fewest 'Yards Per Game', 'Passing Yards', 'Yards Per Play' and also leads the league in sacks, having already brought down the opposing QB a total of 52 times! Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will be hard to contain for this Pittsburgh O-line and it's only a matter of time before they collapse the pocket and cause havoc.

The Steelers are here thanks to a Jeremy Hill fumble when all Cincinnati had to do was run one conservative play for minimal gain without turning the ball over and 2 moments of madness by Vontaze Burfict and Adam 'Pac-Man' Jones! The Bengals beat themselves. Pittsburgh took advantage of those costly penalties to hit a game winning FG and somehow escape with the W. That win didn't come without casualties however as their leading receiver Antonio Brown will miss this game due to concussion and Ben Roethlisberger had to exit the game and was 'questionable' to play for much of this week. He finally practiced on Friday and will take the field today but it remains to be seen how effective he can be. He already had 2 interceptions against this stout Denver defense a few weeks ago when the two teams met but on those occassions, his team bailed him out and he wasn't properly punished for it. We don't believe he'll be as fortunate today and at less than 100% and without his favorite go-to option, he may be hurried into mistakes.

Manning was having a terrible season before missing time due to injury and may well have benefitted from his time on the sidelines. Sometimes a 'break' is all that's needed to re-evaluate certain aspects of one's play and that's especially true for an aging veteran that could use some rest. We don't expect the future Hall of Famer to lead the charge today, he simply needs to avoid not losing his team the game and he's more than capable of that. If the legendary QB can simply 'manage' the game, the rest of this squad should take care of business against the depleted Steelers as they have the better set of WR's, RB's and the far superior defense! Running backs Fitzerald Touissant and Jordan Todman did well in the last game but are still not in the same category as CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman and are inexperienced compared to the Denver duo. This is only their 2nd playoff appearance and against an opportunistic defense, it wouldn't surprise us if they fumbled the ball. Let's also not forget that Pittsburgh's defense has allowed a franchise-worst 271.9 passing yards per game this season! They've also allowed an average of 363 yards per game which ranks 2nd worst in their storied history! Yes, this defense has also shown signs that it can be stingy at times but the inconsistencies are there and long have been and among the teams left in the playoffs, they are the worst unit. At this stage of the post-season, NFL history tells us that teams with excellent defenses survive and those with leaky ones get eliminated.

The road team is just 1-7 ATS (against-the-spread) when Mike Tomlin's club is involved in a playoff game and that may well continue today. That's because without their leading rusher and receiver, this Pittsburgh offense is not the same. As if missing Le'Veon Bell was not bad, veteran DeAngelo Williams had filled in admirably before he also got injured. The former Carolina Panther's impact is often not highlighted enough by the media but numbers don't lie, he was having a truly excellent season. The 32-year old RB had 907 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns! On top of that, he had proven to be a capable pass-catcher, adding a further 367 yards through receptions. As for Antonio Brown, little needs to be said. The dimunitive wideout is considered by many the best receiver in NFL and there are some great numbers to back that up. The speedy receiver was averaging 13.5 yards per play and led the team in receptions (136), yards (1834) and receiving touchdowns (10)! His absence can not be understimated, especially since he also played a key role in 'Special Teams' for Pittsburgh as the team's #1 punt returner!

Unlike the injury-depleted Steelers, the Broncos come into this game healthy. In Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, they have two very dangerous receivers, two veteran tight-ends in Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis and their two main running-backs in Hillman and Anderson. Against a Steelers defense that has had its fair share of troubles, look for them to cover this spread if they don't consistently settle for FGs in the red zone as opposed to TDs. Let's also not forget that this Denver defense has done plenty of scoring itself and leads the league in defensive touchdowns! Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will in particular be happy about the fact that Antonio Brown will not participate today as he had a horrible day trying to keep up with him in Week 15. Other than that one game, he's another member of this unit that is having a note-worthy season as he's allowed a passer rating of just 60.7 against the rest of NFL! The Broncos haven't forgotten about what happened on December 20th when these two teams last met. It was less than a month ago and that second half metldown will still be fresh in their minds. As if another historic (Manning vs. Brady) AFC Championship game was not enough, revenge will further motivate them in this contest. Look for them to avenge last month's loss against the short-handed Steelers and cover the spread in the process. Barring an unfortunate late backdoor cover, this is a mismatch due to the respective health of these two squads.

2) Take Houston at +1 spread against Connecticut for 3% of the bankroll.

The Houston Cougars have been one of the surprise teams this season and head into this matchup with the UConn Huskies with an extremely impressive 13-3 overall record on the season. The Cougars are averaging just over 80 points per game on 46.6% shooting from the field this season. Defensively, they have been solid, holding teams to 67 points per game and allowing them to shoot just 40% from the field. The Houston players should come into this contest extremely motivated as their 6 game win streak was halted in a 70-59 loss at Cincinnati in their last contest. It was their first loss in conference play this season and now that they are back at home, where they are undefeated on the season, we expect them to atone for that performance and get back on the winning track.

The UConn Huskies, meanwhile, come into this contest struggling in conference play. They have dropped two of their last 3 games, with their most recent being a 60-51 road defeat at the hands of the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. It was one of the worst shooting performances of the season by the Huskies as they shot 30% from the field and managed just 25 points in the last 20 mins of that contest. Playing on the road hasn't exactly been kind to the Huskies in recent history as they are just 1-3-1 in their last 5 games away from home. Playing against what should be an extremely motivated team who is undefeated at home may be too tall of a task to ask a Huskies team who is currently struggling on the offensive side of the ball.

The Cougars lead the all-time series meetings 3-2 and have won 2 straight against UConn, including coming away with a double digit win last season in this same venue. The Huskies are a team that have long lived on their reputation of being a "big named" program. They have won two NCAA tournaments in recent history (2009 & 2014) and always seem to get a huge amount of respect from both the oddsmakers as well as the betting public. We believe that "respect" has no doubt influenced this line. The Huskies did not look good in their most recent road game and it is extremely hard to trust them heading into this venue where the Cougars have been seemingly unbeatable. There is no doubt that Kevin Ollie will have the Huskies motivated to turn around their recent struggles, however, with Houston coming off a rare loss, the Huskies will likely run into a buzz saw this afternoon. Houston is playing the better basketball at the moment and should pick up a big win over a herald Huskies team this afternoon.

Other notable facts to consider:

  • The underdog is 4-0 ATS in the last 4 meetings.
  • UConn is just 2-9-1 in their last 12 games following a loss!
  • Houston has covered the spread in 7 of their last 8 home games!
  • Houston is 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games vs. American Athletic Conference.

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