N.Y. JETS at DALLAS (Saturday)
The Cowboys have scored touchdowns on just seven of 68 possessions with Matt Cassel at quarterback. And the veteran has completed just 44% of his passes when facing a blitz. Well, if there is one thing the Jets are going to do, it is send extra people after him. And Kellen Moore isn’t getting a chance yet to show what he can do, at least while the ‘Pokes are still mathematically in the running. New York gains advantages in the red zone, where they are the best in the NFL on both offense AND defense. Meanwhile, Ryan Fitzpatrick has nine TD passes without an interception in his last three games. If the Jets can pound it a little with Chris Ivory (914 yards), we like it even better. New York right in the middle of the AFC wild card race. Lay the points.
ARIZONA at PHILADELPHIA
Yes, we know that the Eagles have come on, with two straight wins. But we are still not convinced that Sam Bradford is ready to do any appreciable damage here. When it comes to genuine strength on drives, the Cards are best in the league in yards gained and points scored. Arizona is on a roll, with seven straight games, and they have the ability to slow down the Eagles’ run game. Philadelphia has been outgained by 35 yards a game – this defense has allowed 29 touchdown passes. And unless Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox can unleash an assault against Carson Palmer, who has been well-protected (21 times in 474 pass plays), we don’t like their chances of keeping the Cards under much control. Laying it with ARIZONA.
DENVER at PITTSBURGH
The Broncos’ running game just did not work last week, as they had 34 net rushing yards. But perhaps that is an anomaly. Brock Oswelier threw it 51 times last week and got forced into some mistakes, but he was intercepted just once, and we are mindful of the fact that Denver has little problem taking defense on the road. And what a defense it is – the Broncos have allowed fewer yards per drive than anyone, and are able to keep things in front of them (5.5 yards per pass allowed). They have yielded just 4.6 yards per play on an overall basis (compared to 6.0 for Pittsburgh), and if they can get back to running it the way they had in the first three games behind Osweiler, there is no reason DENVER couldn’t come out of this with a straight-up win.
BYU vs. UTAH (Las Vegas Bowl – Saturday)
Utah has won the last four meetings against BYU, although these schools haven’t played in the last two regular seasons. Kyle Wittingham is 8-1 straight-up in bowl games, while the dynamic in the BYU preparation is strange because Bronco Mendenhall has already taken the job at Virginia but is sticking around for this bowl game. The Utes continue to have an effective running attack with Joe Williams stepping in for Devontae Booker. But there isn’t the bruising element, and BYU has proven to be a pretty good team against the pass, allowing 56 % completions and chalking up 37 sacks. On top of that, Utah’s top receivers (Britain Covey, Kenneth Scott) are banged up. Tanner Mangum has looked pretty good under pressure, and we’ll look for BYU to possibly get it done this time. Take the points.
OHIO vs. APPALACHIAN STATE (Camellia Bowl – Saturday)
Ohio is in its seventh bowl appearance under Frank Solich, and he doesn’t know a whole lot about this opponent. The Bobcats should get QB Derrius Vick back and healthy for this one, and they are nicely balanced (unlike some other Solich teams). This defense was rather permissive against the run (4.8 ypc allowed) and that is one area in which Appalachian State (in its first bowl as an FBS school) excels, averaging 269 yards a game. Interestingly enough, for a team that runs it two-thirds of the time, Taylor Lamb certainly has a lot of TD passes (30). Ten starters came back on offense for ASU, which allowed Lamb to be sacked only nine times. Conditions OK for a shootout. OVER 55
SAN JOSE STATE vs. GEORGIA STATE (Cure Bowl – Saturday)
Georgia State had lost 27 of its last 29 games before rebounding and coming on to garner its first bowl bid in FBS football. And the Panthers turned in their best performance in their regular season finale, neutralizing the Georgia Southern option en route to a 34-7 victory. San Jose State is in a bowl despite a 5-7 record, but the Spartans were second best in the nation against the pass (at least in terms of passing yards), which might serve to slow up the GSU attack, which operates almost exclusively on the passing arm of Nick Arbuckle. And the Panthers won’t have an easy time dealing with Tyler Ervin (1469 yards), who is the best running back they will have faced. The Spartans are the third least penalized team in the nation, so they don’t beat themselves like that, and there are other edges to be had on special teams (3rd nationally in net punting), which points us in the direction of SAN JOSE STATE.
(Charles Jay is a gaming professional, content specialist and sports handicapper. He offers his special commentary in the 2015 Sports Betting Guide –http://2015sportsbettingguide.com/)